Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Not Seeing Is Believing

Ever hear a child put his hands over his ears, or sometimes closing her eyes too, and chanting loudly, "I can't hear you - lalalalala"?

Aside from the old adage that "there are none so blind as those who will not see", there are different names for this concept, such as "selective ignorance" and "self-imposed ignorance". I often use another term, because I think "willful ignorance" fits better due to the fact that it takes a conscious decision to decide to stay ignorant about an issue on purpose - especially when there is so much information available. We are surrounded by it, and so as far as I'm concerned, to remain ignorant about some things must take a supreme effort of will.

Ignorance is not knowing something, and ignorance in itself is not such a problem - people closing their minds and being willfully ignorant, is. Some people are unwilling to accept facts or information that will either contradict their beliefs, or relieve their ignorance - precisely because the facts or truth will disprove their beliefs. That is what happens when people become set in their ways, old and inflexible. It is the same with belief systems. The same could be said for languages - when they stop growing and changing to keep up with the people who use them, they become obsolete and die. Basically, what I am talking about here is resistance to change.

Likewise, it's amazing how fragile religion can be, how like a house of cards? When its continued existence rests on the continued denial of actualities and facts, because the pillars of that religion have come to rest on assumptions, mistakes and outright lies instead of the foundations upon which it was supposedly founded?

Take an example. Some people who belong to a particular religion, say Christianity for instance, hate gay or transgender people. They say that gay and trans people are "evil" because they are gay or trans, and they use their religion as an excuse for their hate, and drum up other people who feel the way they do into a frenzy of anti-gay and anti-trans sentiment - leading to exclusion, discrimination and persecution.

The gay and trans people say "stoppie bus", protest - and say they didn't choose to be gay or trans, and in any case most feel they were born that way. Just ask Lady Gaga, she'll tell you. The haters refuse to accept this, maintaining that being gay or trans is a "sinful lifestyle choice" and see this as relevant and fitting because all "sin" is a choice. The ringleaders attempt to mask their hate by making idiotic statements like "hate the sin and not the sinner", clearly not understanding that our expressions of love or self-identification are precisely part of who we are as people, and obviously not realizing the brute stupidity and implications of such a statement.

Then some highly educated scientists and doctors come along and present some compelling evidence to show that sexual orientation and gender identity issues are pretty much a fact of nature, not choice or "sin" - and the haters refuse to accept it. "False!" they cry, pointing at their holy books written 2000 years ago by camel-herders in some Mesopotamian desert, and edited and modified by popes, politicians and incompetent translators over the centuries. Others point out that "Look - there are loads of gay and even bisexual animals in nature - and look, even some animals that change sex" - and still, they steadfastly ignore the facts. "There's no such thing as gay animals!" they insist, while trying to force said gay animals to breed in a zoo - or conveniently make them disappear on the quiet.

"The bible is 'inerrant'!" they insist, "It's perfect, it's the Word of God! God doesn't lie." Hmm. surely not, but people certainly do - especially when they want to get rid of something - or someone they don't like. As I have mentioned before, there is a myth that the Christian bible is unchanged from the original, if there ever was such a thing, and that it is "true and correct", when in fact it is anything but. The facts show how it has been altered by people who didn't like women to be treated as equals, and by people who didn't like sexual or gender diversity - creating all kinds of misunderstandings, either in mistranslation, or by design. But don't just take my word for it, have a look here, here, here, here and here. Even considering how some of these people still believe their "bible" to be 'inerrant' and insist in using it as a weapon of hatred, there is a logical pattern by which all their arguments can be completely debunked, shot down, destroyed and buried. Here is an article written by a theologian that does just that. In my opinion, more Christians need to see more articles like that one.

Bearing all this in mind, I have to wonder two things - a) how much do those who claim to be "true Christians" who act out of hatred against other people in the name of their faith, actually know about their religion; and b) if they do know about these glaring disparities, how can they reconcile their actions of hatred and injustice with their faith?

Of course, this is another point where willful ignorance comes into the equation. How long are Christians going to sit idly by - or worse, actively persecute other people out of willful ignorance before they open their eyes and smell the bullshit? How long are they going to sit in the pews, pretending it is the middle ages, as though they are not allowed to question their pastors and ministers - or their denomination's integrity, actions or motives for preaching falsehood, lies and hatred in the name of their faith?

I have to add to my list of indignation's the point that it is supreme arrogance for anyone to feel that who somebody else forms a relationship with, or whether they want to express their gender as male or female, is any of their business. It also raises a question for me - is this issue so important a part of their religious beliefs, that they will revel in hatred and even encourage genocide in the name of their faith? Is sexual orientation and gender identity a cornerstone of their religion? Is maintaining a male-dominated, heterosexual and cis-gendered, non diverse, non-shellfish-eating society all they focus on in their religion? Because they sure seem obsessed with it. Never mind global warming, earthquakes, tsunami's or the economy folks - if you wear nail varnish, son - you're going to burn in hell!

Funny, I always thought that religions were based on more serious matters, concerned with where people will spend their afterlives, or being non-judgmental, making a better world, or acting out of love for their fellow creatures - not out of hate, or intolerance - or trying to control governments, or telling people what to think and how to think it.

No really, take a look at the sort of things these people claim to hold dear in their faith, and the things they buck against and conspire to destroy - and how many times they are caught out lying or covering things up, and then weigh their actions against the actions and utterances of the alleged originator of their religion - and then think about it.

Many of the people claiming to be "Christians" today who indulge in anti-human rights activities - opposing equal civil rights for other people, and even acting to deprive people of their humanity - appear to be more like Leviticans than like Christ. They don't seem to realize they have usurped their religious foundations, dethroned their god, and turned to the Old Testament book of Leviticus for their so-called fundamentals. Most of them will refer more to these sections than their wholly unauthorized and un-commissioned New Testament. They're not Christians at all, but uber-pharisees - imitators of the Old Testament religion. And in the same breath, while they appear to be pharisees on steroids, they are most often simultaneously also anti-Semites. Go figure.

"Salvation" has become a multi-million Dollar industry all around the world - and that's right, I said industry. Religion has hit a boom as a thriving business, and like any business, there are key-points, marketing strategies, and buzz-words. Like "the family" for instance - and they use it as if non-Christians were hatched out of eggs, or beamed down out of space and never had families without their version of god, or brand of Faith™ - and threaten to destroy them. Funnily enough, they also lay claim to certain words and concepts, as if they somehow "own" them - like "Marriage" for example - note the capital "M"? Perhaps they would like to put a "" next to that as well? They paint those they don't like as a threat so that they can justify their existence - or their hatred - to their followers, by pointing at them and using these pariahs as scapegoats and rallying or unifying points to cling to power and keep their little nightmare alive.

More followers means more money, and as these evangelical fanatical elements grow in size in the world, the older more traditional denominations are having to either follow suit, or consider a going out of business sale. As it is, many folks I know are despondent about the sheer numbers in the hate churches versus the tiny congregations that follow an inclusive, tolerant approach. Some ministers have lost hope for the organization called the Church, but they go through the motions because it pays their salaries. Even though they want to, few have the guts to stand up against the ingrained system of intolerance and hatred - which has no real biblical basis - but just an institutional one. And so it goes on, a system of institutional denial, circular debate, social indifference, apathy, misinformation and disinformation, hypocrisy and willful ignorance.

This trend of being willfully ignorant, close-minded or blind to facts and truths about the world around us seems to me to be remarkably fitting for the religious fundamentalist. Kind of like whittling down of a big old book containing around 2000 pages to a couple of paragraphs, telegram style - and then claiming that is the supposed essence or core of the religion. Believe this and this, don't do this or that - comply - and hate everyone else who doesn't, and you're guaranteed a place in the big white 144k seater bus. Lastly, I also think it is hilarious how the fundies also most often seem to pick exactly the WRONG fundamentals, innit?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spit Or Swallow?

Belief is subjective, you don't have to like somebody else's beliefs any more than somebody else might agree with folks standing in church waving their hands in the air. Some folks see religion as chicken soup for the soul - well, some folks like their soup with croutons, others with noodles. Some like tomato, others butter-nut. It would be a boring old world if we all just stuck to "hearty beef" now wouldn't it?

When I posted that on Facebook as a status, an old friend of mine replied, extending the metaphor: "Some people are vegetarian, others just hate soup, others say soup is for sick people, and some just eat soup cos they are too poor to eat steak."

What can I say to that, other than LMAO?

Be that as it may, some folks like to criticize other people for believing "a load of bullshit" because they believe in another religion different to their own - which they see as the only "true" or "right" religion. Somehow the irony in that completely eludes them.

Others like their own religion or belief system so much that they decide that other people should adhere to their belief system too, and cannot accept the possibility that other people might not want to, or would choose another belief system. You see, to them their belief system has become a lens through which they see the world, and without this lens they would be plunged into a world of darkness, terror and gloom, and for all intents and purposes, essentially blind. Substituting their own lens for another would not work for them either, as it would seemingly distort their view of the world to the point where the world would be overrun by monsters and demons and they would see their worst fears realized.

Yes, I have used yet another metaphor - this time substituting the religious views people have of themselves and the world around them with optical lenses, and each religion being represented by a different lens - each providing a starkly different view of the world. As in real optical lenses which come in different strengths, so too do religions. Christianity 25+ for example gives a different world view to that provided by Agnosticism -5. For one thing, the elephants look a little smaller, and things sure do look hazy, but not as hazy as for example when using Rastafarianism 0 (cough - cough, this is good shit, man). Yes, this is tongue in cheek, so please put down the gun and back away slowly and nobody will get hurt.

So anyway, it seems fair to assume we have religious folks who call themselves by the name of a religion, and then you have the religious folks on steroids, who REALLY believe in everything their religion claims to stand for, falling for the advertising slogans and the marketing and sales pitch like a ton of bricks. They might get a little over-enthusiastic about it, and actually hate all other religious belief systems aside from their favorite - they may even take issue with the other adherents of their belief system who do not - and yet they will also call themselves by the name of the same religion as the other folks who are not quite as obsessed. They move beyond just being concerned with their own spiritual well-being and start becoming first bothered and then obsessed by what the neighbors are getting up to in the privacy of their own homes. Yes, I know - religion is all very confusing, isn't it? In fact, the more you dig into it, the more it begins to look like espionage and even politics - and the less you can actually separate the functional aspects of either social constructs. Look at the Middle East for instance. In Palestine and Israel they haven't been able to separate religion and politics for almost a century - and if that doesn't tell you what awaits any country that follows such an enigmatic example, nothing will.

Logic dictates that since religion by its very nature is an illogical belief in the improvable, without any tangible proof or evidence to back up the fundamentals of any religion - and therefore, no religion can be considered more real than another just because it is older, or has more books in it, or more followers - or even because it has spilled more blood than another. Taking all that into consideration therefore, it is quite logical to assert that since no one religion can prove its legitimacy over any other by the provision of either conclusive facts or divine intervention, one could say that all religions are false, wishful thinking and utterly pointless - or all religions are correct in at least some ways and might collectively serve some kind of obscure useful purpose. One might then argue that either all religions should be scrapped (which would of course result in a massive outcry) - or all religions should be accorded an equal status in the world, one with the other.

While the first option is a clear violation of human rights - the fundamental right to believe whatever you want to is guaranteed by most countries Constitutions today, even if it is a load of horse manure and causes you to hate everybody and everything - but just as long as people aren't actually stupid or mean-spirited enough to cause harm to other people, whatever their motivation, even if the motive is the satisfaction of said shitty thoughts - everything should work out just fine. The trouble is, things often are not really fine - and many times people do nasty things to other people because of their personal religious "convictions" - only, whenever someone tries to actually convict them in court for the acts they committed in the name of these "convictions", they cry foul. You see, religion is being used by some as an excuse and a justification for acts of terror and violence committed in the interests of particular religious beliefs. Take Uganda for example. Religious and political leaders there have been and still are calling for people to be murdered by the state simply on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity - and they use their religion to justify their call for violence, to excuse their incitement to commit murder, and to absolve their guilt. In my humble opinion, this is taking the tired old court joke of "the Devil made me do it" to a new low, and it just doesn't fly.

Of course, while the second option, that of disposing of all religions, would be an ideal solution to more than half the troubles in the world today, not everyone who holds their own faith close to their hearts will willingly grant people of other religions the same courtesy. Some see all other religions and belief systems not as equals, but as "false", as competitors, usurpers and enemies of their faith. There exists in their vision no room for all belief systems to co-exist peacefully without stepping on each other's toes, or without a good deal of snarling, back-stabbing and blood-shed. This, despite the plain facts showing that as much as they view other religions as false, they actually have nothing tangible to base their own claims on either. This of course all adds to the spice of the amazing soup of life, or is that a crouton?

I believe the above example of the two choices society has, demonstrates how some people use their religion to excuse their acts of hatred or personal intolerance and to infringe on the human rights of others. Freedom of religion and belief are two fundamental human rights that should not be turned against themselves and the other body of human rights in order to usurp the human rights of one group by another, and that is what is happening in the world today. Somehow we have to maintain a balance between the two.

I feel it is a good point to make that were there one religion with irrefutable proof that it was the one and only correct, true and "real" religion, everybody would probably flock to it and there would be no alternate faith groups. Well, perhaps not. Some people will disagree with anything, even solid facts. Some people refused to believe the Earth is round, even after some people sailed ships around it. Some people still do. Some people are so obtuse that you have to drop a hammer on their foot just to convince them that gravity is real, but oh well, there's no accounting for some people's reasoning.

Despite religion not having any factual basis at all, fear has a way of making things more real. Considering our Western society's traditions stemming from centuries of Christian domination, under both Protestant and Catholic influence, religion and religious principles are often imposed on a whole society, even though only part of that society actually considers that religion to be applicable to themselves, or even remotely considers this imposition reasonable or justifiable. Many supporters or proponents of Christianity today use fear to garner support for their schemes or to apply pressure on groups which they identify as a "threat" to their continued supremacy or social position. Many of the more moderate adherents of this religion will sit quietly on the sidelines while the more crazy, fundamentalist and obsessive factor will drown out their voices of love, peace and tolerance by jumping up and down and intimidating people - often threatening them. Some will even actively indulge in actions which really do harm to others. And before you consider telling me I'm talking shit, have a look at the far right religious fundamentalist Christian movements around the world - in particular in the USA and in Uganda, where they have been running riot for the past few decades, painting certain social groupings as "undesirables" and drumming up hatred and inciting violence against them. Uganda is a very good, very real example of religious fundamentalism run amok.

When it comes to religion and soup, I would say that the religious fundamentalist is the fly in the soup, muddying things up and agitating it into a frothy mess. I suppose whether these flies are doing the back-stroke or the crawl is a matter of debate for another day, but there is no doubt in my mind that for many people down through the centuries, the only thing which made any religion "more real" for them, was the fact that not believing as other people did, or being perceived to differ of opinion, or deviate from set doctrine could or would get them killed. Fear keeps people in line, and so fear and religion go well in hand when one needs a system of control - which in effect is the central purpose of any organized hierarchical religion. If control was not a central purpose of such a religion then why would it need to be so organized along national and international lines? Why would it need to pursue such a deathly grip on secular politics? Why would it require such blind, unquestioning obedience and impose such invasive and inflexible laws?

This brings me to the folks who do not adhere to the religion perse', but nevertheless feel the influence of these religious-based features in their daily lives, and experience the pressure being brought to bear on them by religious influence in the media, in state laws and cultural norms - and put up with them, despite not having any personal connection to them whatever - either because it has gradually been infused into the social construct to a point where separation is impossible, or because resistance would prove disastrous.

People are expected by others to not work or operate their business on a particular day, despite the fact that they do not share their beliefs. Some people expect others to put up with references to their god in their national constitution, despite the fact that not everyone believes in that god, or believe that any god should have anything to do with the laws of the land. Some people are of the opinion that the phrase "an act of God" is a legal term meant as a metaphor - not a base statement of reality with ominous overtones.

Some people expect others to disregard scientific and medical facts just because they choose to close off their minds to reason and logic, just as they do. Some people view independent thought, and deviation from their doctrine as dangerous and threatening. Some people view the way they are as the way things should be - and see those who are different to them as evil, perverse, dangerous and threatening - most often because of fear, which is inspired by those who play on differences between people and their ignorance about them. This is the very same classic example of utter stupidity evident in scenarios where right-handed people persecute left-handed people, men oppress women, whites deprive blacks of equality, gentiles exterminate Jews, and straights stomp gays into the dirt - because "there's more of us, and we have the power - so we must be right". It is situations like these where people cannot justify their hatred or intolerance for a group of people outside of their religious beliefs - given that their beliefs have no foundation other than the beliefs themselves that make me question the overall IQ and general worthiness of the human race to survive its endless journey blundering and stumbling through the darkness. They cannot excuse it or justify it, yet they keep doing it - and the croutons in their little soup bowls provides them with the excuses, justifications and the comfort to soothe the hunger of their aching consciences afterwards.

And this is one of the reasons why transgender and gay people face such a battle in the world dominated by religion, particularly religions which set specific rules for everything, and cast all those who don't conform as the bad guys in the movie. Of course, such folks who like to cast judgment on us also reserve the Director and Producer seats for themselves, while denying that they have control of the lines or the screenplay - or that there is even another side to the story. Obviously, when it comes to the administration of laws and justice and the proportioning of human rights among the masses, it isn't hard to guess who ends up on the cutting room floor or gets told "You'll never work in this town again!"

As most discussions on the topic of sexuality and gender reveal, some people just can't handle diversity, and the fact that other people have opinions different to their own - and free will to decide for themselves how to live their lives. It makes some people quite angry, and even openly hostile. It makes some people want to get into politics and change the law so they take away the humanity of other people they dislike on religious grounds - grounds for which they have utterly no justification whatsoever.

Which brings me to my position on all this. I am a transgender woman. This life is my journey, nobody can travel it for me, nobody can choose for me, nobody can tell me I must live my life according to their beliefs and not mine. Nobody can tell me what to believe. That is something I must find out for myself. I am a transsexual woman, I am asexual and pan-romantic. I may call myself Wiccan for now, just as I once called myself Christian, and agnostic - and I intend to learn what I can from it. Who knows what I may call myself in another decade's time? I may one day call myself atheist - but that is my choice and no-one else's. I don't push my beliefs on other people and I don't see why I have to defend my beliefs and my choices in life against other people's beliefs about my beliefs in relation to theirs.

To all those folks who judge me for being transgender, or for who I choose to form a relationship with, and who make my business their business, and who take it upon themselves to act against me and against my civil and human rights - I reject your "right" to do so. Instead of looking down on me because I had to have surgery to correct one of nature's mistakes, and repeatedly trying to establish your "superiority" over me because of that, you should thank whatever flying spaghetti monster you believe in for being born anatomically correct, or bend over and just kiss it.

And if you try to force-feed me with your particular brand of soup, whatever its flavor, I'm unlikely to swallow it. In fact, be ready for a shower of hot, wet slimy rejection, croutons, flies and all. Lastly, there is one more thing that I can add to the metaphor of the soup - the spoon - that's my free will, which I will cram into a very uncomfortable spot and you will not enjoy it.

You may disagree with me or my life choices or beliefs - that is your right - but it doesn't justify your aggression and hostility, or ratify whatever moves you make to strip me of my rights and my humanity. If people are nice to me, I'm nice back. I don't kiss ass - I take bites - and you get what you give.

Believe what you like, I'm not stopping you. I will believe what I like, and you will not stop me.