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Archive for September, 2009

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

Is it wrong to be religious? Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens would have us believe so. In fact I would say they are anti-religious extremists – and I am positive they would proudly agree with this statement. Its one thing to hear the religious extremists of Christianity and Islam talk firebrand language about the evil of non-believers, but to hear intelligent self-proclaimed atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens wax lyrical about the evils of religion is hard to bear. One would think that such men of science and intellect would know better than to further entrench divisions in an already fractured society. They are effectively shutting down any dialouge between those who believe in religion and those who do not. They are spreading a hatred amongst the population towards those that they accuse of spreading hatred. It is depressing, it is small minded.

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins

Dawkins and Hitchens tell us that religion is the source of all woe in the world. That it is at the heart of pogroms against the Jews, homophobia, misogyny and general intolerance. Both essentially believe that all religion should be eradicated and replaced with a kind of international humanism that will function on a rational and scientific basis. There is merit to this argument. There is no doubt that when religious extremists get into power terrible things can happen. The Taliban in Afghanistan were/are a terrifying example of this. George Bush, a devout Christian, brought the world to a chaotic and war-torn position with his religious mania. But there have also been plenty of non-religious leaders who ruled with cruelty. Stalin was an atheist and he killed 60 million people in his Gulags. Pol Pot was also an atheist and his regime murdered 2 million Cambodians. Perhaps the point is not that religion creates cruelty and terror, but rather the possession of power leads to cruelty and terror.

In the West the State (political-economic system) is considered to be free of the influence of the church and is run on transparent democratic values. Yet the State is responsible for the incarceration of thousands in its cruel prison system. The State controls the military which is responsible for the killing of unknown numbers of people – think Iraq and Afghanistan. Anti-terror laws in Australia allow police to raid anybody’s house without permission, a law that spreads fear and anxiety through the population. All these activities are not religiously motivated –  they are sanctioned by the State. My point is that pointing the finger at religion as the only source of cruelty  is an extremist view that ignores the wider picture. Wouldn’t it be more worthy to ask what it is about human nature that causes such acts of cruelty and hatred in the first place?

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Religion has created men and women of peace. Ghandi was a Hindu. Martin Luther King was a Christian. The Dalai Lama is Buddhist. These men have inspired millions, atheist and non-atheist alike. Nelson Mandela is Christian and he led South Africa into the modern world, with a constitution free of religious interference that Dawkins and Hitchens would approve of. Yet here is what Mandela has to say about religion:

Religion is one of the most important forces in the world. Whether you are a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew, or a Hindu, religion is a great force, and it can help one have command of one’s own morality, one’s own behavior, and one’s own attitude.

When I was young I read a book by Christopher Hitchens called Letters to a Young Contrarian. It was a book written for young radicals, giving them the courage to stand against popular opinion and to speak against what they did not believe in. Hitchens is no hypocrite when it comes to this matter. He is probably the most well-known contrarian on the planet. But his contrarian views have caused him to contradict himself. Hitchens was unusual in that he was one of the few people from the Left side of politics who supported Bush’s war on terrorism, including the bombing of Sudan. Hitchens supported it for the lofty idea that it was a war defending the humanist ideals of Western civilisation against the dark-age beliefs of Muslim extremists. But of course by giving his support to Bush he covertly gave support to religious extremism, because that was the basis of Bush’s war on terror. He went to war with Iraq because God told him to. How can Hitchens justify this? I’m sure he can easily, he is a clever fellow. But he lost me at this point- his views have become farcical. He also lost some powerful friends from the decision to support the war on terrorism, including Noam Chomsky.

Dawkins comes from a different perspective. He thinks we should all reject religion because science is the only truth. Science is a truth indeed. It has brought us many positive developments, especially knowledge. But it has also brought as the atom bomb, polluting machines, chemicals, refined weapons etc. And science in the past was used to justify Europeans superiority over other cultures which led to genocides around the world. Ironically it was religious missionaries who saved some indigenous cultures from complete annihilation (though arguably, they completed the process culturally by forcing them to convert to Christianity). Even today science has a limited sphere of viewing – it can only answer so many questions. This has already been resolved by the deconstruction of the Western mind by post-modernists such as Foucault, Deleuze and Derrida who (perhaps unintentionally) left the door open to other ways of perceiving and understanding the world including mysticism, shamanism and dare I say it religion. Imperialistic statements that place one world-view above others are nothing but incendiary. Can Dawkins not see that his comments could lead to as much anger, resentment and hatred as any religious leader could invoke?

Of the people in my life, some are atheist and some are religious. And they are all good people. While they don’t agree on everything, they are capable of getting along with one another and accepting that each other has different beliefs. Such people are likely to become uncomfortable with one another and may even become enemies with the rise of vociferous voices like Hitchens and Dawkins who, like any other extremists or propagandists, spread division amongst the population. Religion has the capacity to deal with questions that Science cannot answer as science is limited to the physical domain; however, in the 20th Century science broke beyond the observable into the realm of the mystical. There are plenty of examples of this. Read this quote from physicist Brian Swimme, a scientist who is attempting to bridge the gap between science and religion and offer the world something new, not just promote the same old divisions and hatreds:

While this perspective (quantum physics) is new within the traditions of science, from another point of view we are arriving at an understanding that was deeply appreciated during the classical religious period of humanity. Thomas Aquinas and Meister Eckhart in the Middle Ages of Europe grasped intuitively that emptiness is the source of everything. This realization is echoed in the life and teaching of Buddha, who understood that all put-together things arise from emptiness and exist inseparably with emptiness.

Religion refuses to put humanity at the center of existence. In this way it gives its believers a realistic perspective of their own reality. That they are something small in something vast – a kind of awe and reverence arises from this understanding. Humanism while a worthy political aspiration can never offer the consolations and inner understandings of religion as it places humans at the center of existence which is essentially false. We need to see ourselves in relation to the vastness and mysteriousness of the universe in which we exist. That religion inspires nutters and murderers and intolerance is not necessarily the fault of religion. It is the fault of humanity. It is something in ourselves that we need to understand and overcome. Creating further divisions by dumping people who choose to believe in religion in the ‘bad person’ camp is just plain dumb. We should expect more from our intellectual and cultural (self-proclaimed) leaders. Yes Hitchens and Dawkins, I’m talking about you…

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I am merely non-mummy space with the occasional banana. This may sound like some kind of surrealist soundbite, but it is in fact a serious existential

A father's purpose

A father's purpose

comment on my present situation. Those of you who are fathers may understand the statement, but those who are not probably need some explanation. There are days when my children take no notice of me at all. I am non-existent, a mere distraction from the central deity – Mum. I am, as I say, non-mummy space, and anything that is not Mum is of no consequence. At one stage on one of these particular days I was eating a banana. My kids started crawling toward me, there eyes fixated on me. I felt momentarily special. My kids want me, I thought, I’m important! But the moment I ate my last piece of banana, they became still, turned there back on me, and even started crying as they headed towards Mummy, who of course looked at me like I was a greedy bastard for not sharing my banana. I am merely non-mummy space with the occasional banana.

This is the life of a father. You crave adoration from your kids. So you jump toward them and hug them and pinch their cheeks. And there response? It is so hysterical and tormented that if you were in a park you’d probably be arrested. ‘But officer they’re my children’. ‘I doubt a child would react that way to their own parent sir.’ I can see why some father’s resort to a life spent in the chair drinking beer and swearing at the TV, or dedicate themselves to work so they don’t have to be home. The sudden sense of purposelessness in the home when the children come along is palpable. I mean you can get in their and help, but in the end you are non-mummy space.

As for the Mum. They are exhausted by the end of the day after having two little cling-ons hanging off their jeans, and by the time they see you they are ready to explode. Which is fair enough, because everyone needs to explode when the pressure builds. But you start feeling guilty because your a slob, which you are, and were quiet happily for all those years before the wife and kids came along. Suddenly you’ve got to try and lift your act because the Mum is sick of doing all the work. I mean seriously, I can see why blokes head down to the pub and hide in the corner making furtive glances between each other and the TAB tellies. Its the mixture of guilt of having maintained your natural level of slackness, and saying that you just needed a walk to stay fit so you could play with the kids.

Anyway, I’m not doing any of these things. Instead, I have decided to buy a yellow suit and wear banana deodorant for now on. This way the kids will follow me around and my wife will think I rock because I’m distracting them. My very own post-modern solution to an age old problem…

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Fame has become an obsession hasn’t it? I mean everyone wants to be famous. Big Brother (remember that show), Australian Idol and Celebrity Chef are all examples of this. Is it good for us, this obsession with fame? Are there any people left simply content with there life, or are we all clawing for more – more recognition, more love, more more?  The greatest symbol of fame is Paris Hilton – she has done nothing of value, except be really good at being famous. She is our symbol, we need her, because we can all laugh at her and put her down, yet she has what everyone wants – fame (and money I guess).

What is the source of this drive that afflicts us? Capitalism is definitely a culprit. This system encourages us to accumulate more. To stand out from the crowd by how much you have, how much you earn. It encourages us to stand on our neighbour to reach the top. This is a logical precursor to a state of wanting to be noticed by as many people as possible. Hollywood movies are another cause. How many films are there (particualrly kids films) that tell the story of the under dog reaching the top and being loved by everyone. How many young minds have been distorted by this? And the half-baked philosophy of ‘follow your dreams and your dreams will come true’ has left a trail of depressed 30-40 somethings who have led their lives trying to be stars and be noticed and be the ones who stand out, only to realise one day, they have nothing.

What about me? Why do I write blogs and twitter and make music and get it out there and try to get people to read my stories? Do I just want to be noticed? Is the whole phenomena of the net a disparate collection of people shouting and calling – ‘hey, check me out, I’m cool, I’m interesting’?

In France there is group of anarchists called the Invisible Commitee that don’t want to be noticed (but do want to halt Capitalism). They don’t want to be noticed… I am thinking this might be some kind of political reaction to the obsession with fame. They say being ‘socially nothing is the condition for maximum freedom of action’. That kind of makes sense. If I want to get noticed and raise the ladder of fame I have to be nice to people and get people to think I’m amazing. Not much freedom in that.

But then again Charles Manson is famous, and he wasn’t nice to people. He is a crazy guy that killed people. What about all these gunmen in America that kill scores of people, then themselves. Usually they are misfits or depressed people who don’t get noticed and are thus really angry with the world. What best way to get noticed than murdering a whole bunch of people? Well, there are better ways to get famous and noticed. But the majority of us never will be known beyond a small circle of loved ones. And there are those few of us who are driven crazy by it and do terrible things.

Younger generations have the fame fever bad. They have grown up being told they can be whatever they want to be, they just have to set there minds to it. Thus we have a whole generation of kids who want to be rock stars and movie stars and just bloody stars. Who the hells gonna clean the toilets? Or maybe one day toilet cleaners will become famous and everyone will want to be a toilet cleaner? Like Kenny. Perhaps the problem is that it’s so easy to reach everyone in the world with YouTube and aeroplanes and mobiles that we all know we can be noticed and spend our lives trying to be.

Imagine being content with a few loved ones around you and an expressive life that was meaningful to you. How quaint. But then again, maybe the drive for fame is a democratic victory! That everyone has an equal opportunity to raise to the top. That you aren’t just born into fame & wealth, you can make it happen! The result being of course that we can all be miserable together, wishing we had more (Ha!). Maybe the anarchist ‘Invisible Committee’ will take over one day and we won’t be able to be famous anymore. Unless of course your the anarchist who started it all and you become famous and everyone knows your name…

I don’t think this blog entry has resolved anything. I am famous yet?

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