Daily Archives: 23 Dec 2015

Flying Spaghetti Monster Recognized Down Under

Touched by His Noodly Appendage

Down in New Zealand, the government has now recognized the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to officiate wedding ceremonies. They are still waiting to be allowed to register as a nonprofit religious organization. At least, that’s what The New Zealand Herald reported over the weekend, First Pastafarian Wedding on the Way. So good for them! Weddings are solemn occasions, and they become even more so when colanders and pirate costumes are involved.

I understand that for actually religious people — especially those of the literalist bent — groups like the Flying Spaghetti Monster represent a bit of a challenge. How does one distinguish between, say, Christianity and Pastafarianism? Usually, any attempts come down to nothing more than: “Well, the idea of a flying spaghetti monster is just silly!” But is it really? Here is what Christianity is in its most basic form: humans are born sinners; to rid them of their sins, God impregnated a woman so his death would wash those sins away; those who accept the martyred demigod get to go to heaven. That is silly to anyone who hasn’t been indoctrinated into it.

The similarly inclined Satanic Temple creates an even bigger problem for Christians, because it uses the exact same mythology, but turns it on its head. So all that Christians can do is say that the Satanic Temple is wrong and “evil,” but they can’t dismiss it as silly. I’ve long been of the opinion that the Satanic Temple offers much better moral guidance than any of the Abrahamic faiths. But the response to it by Christians is to dismiss it because the book they’ve been given says that Satan is bad. Obviously, the Satanic Temple views things very differently. This leaves Christians with nothing but tradition on their hands: this is what they were taught and what their parents believed, so it must be right.

Ultimately, the big knock against both of these religions is that their followers don’t really believe it. But this reminds me of something I heard Robert M Price say. Christian apologists explain away earlier cults that were pretty much the same as Christianity by saying, “Satan knew Jesus was coming so he created these cults just to confuse people.” Price remarked, “What is this?! Salvation through gullibility?” Nonetheless, people claim that freedom of religion means freedom for Christianity and not for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But what they are saying is that just because the followers of the former are deluded, they should get some kind of special rights that those with less common belief systems should not.

The reason that we have freedom of religion is because people’s religious believes have traditionally been a major source of oppression. And that’s certainly true for atheists and agnostics and mystics. It’s probably even more true for them. So let’s suppose that the followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster really are just involved with it because they are atheists. They still deserve religious protection for the same reason that theists need it. What’s more, why is it that atheists have to hire some professional to get themselves married when their theist friends can get it done on the cheep?

Most atheists hate in when theists say that atheism is a religion. But in the only sense that matters, it is. It is a belief system regarding the unknowable. That’s not to say that atheism is irrational or anything else. But it is in this sense that we can think most clearly about what our rights mean. It shouldn’t be necessary to create the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to make this point. Although it is a lot more fun. Intellectually, I’m pulled toward the Satanic Temple. But my heart pulls me to Pastafarianism — and not just because I look so damned good in a colander.

Agrabah and the Generalized Fear of Republicans

AladdinPublic Policy Polling (PPP) has a history of polling ridiculous things. Usually I don’t think it means all that much. I’m of the opinion that if you asked Republicans if Obama was a child molester, a fair percentage of them would say yes. It isn’t that they really think that Obama is a child molester but that they want all the world to know that they really, really, really don’t like the first African American president. But the week before last, PPP asked an obscure, but I think ultimately telling, question, “Would you support or oppose bombing Agrabah?”

Now you probably don’t know it, but according to the Disney wikia page, “Agrabah, Arabia (أغربه) is the central location in the popular 1992 Disney film, Aladdin.” PPP didn’t tell this to the 532 Republicans they polled. And you can well image what the people answering the poll were thinking. “Agrabah” just sounds like a place where “those people” are. As I have heard too many times to feel good about humanity, “Those people were dancing after 9/11!” And this notion of “those people” includes pretty much everyone that isn’t European. “If they’re brown, they were happy to see the towers go down!”

So 30% of Republicans responded yes: they wanted to bomb Agrabah. Apparently, they wanted to make its celluloid glow in the dark. On the positive side, 13% thought that bombing was a bad idea. It’s a lot to expect that they recognized that Agrabah was a fantasy land from a distant Disney feature. I suspect they represent the libertarian, or at least non-interventionist, wing of the party. They said no to the question for the same reason most Democrats would: they aren’t keen on bombing other countries as a matter of course. And I suppose we should be glad that a whopping 57% of Republicans would like to wait and see if the Agrabahians are planning to use their magic carpets in an offensive way.

But 30%. That’s a lot of people who just want to bomb somewhere — anywhere. Well, almost anywhere. You see, if they had been asked if we should bomb Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, they wouldn’t have said yes. It is just that Agrabah sounds like one of those places where the people don’t like us. I’m sure the numbers would have been the same if the location was Bhopal — or even Mumbai. Because they are foreign sounding.

It’s a great concern that we have developed to the point where roughly a third of the Republican Party are so fearful that they are determined to bomb away their concerns. And I suspect that the other 57% are overcome with fear too. The last Republican debate did not instill confidence. Watching the whole thing, I was amazed that ISIS had become this big deal. It makes me feel alone, because I grew up with the Soviet threat. And although I think we were far too concerned about it, there is no doubt that the Soviet Union was a super power. The concern about ISIS is ridiculous.

For one thing, it is super focused. We don’t have to worry about white supremacists shooting up a church, because that’s just some wacko. We don’t have to worry about some guy shooting up a Planned Parenthood, because it is just some wacko. But a couple of would-be jihadists kill a bunch of people and there is nothing idiosyncratic about it! No, as “reasonable” Republican Marco Rubio says, it’s a “class of civilizations”!

This is what you get when all you have to offer the people is fear. When all your actual policies would be repugnant to conservatives if they were ever allowed to see them clearly. Nevertheless, Aladdin and Princess Jasmine are safe — for now. But there are many in the Republican Party who love the smell of celluloid in the morning.

Morning Music: Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

Happy Xmas (War Is Over)Today, we will listen to one that almost everyone I know really likes: John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).” There are things about it that I like. Well, there’s one thing I like about it: “So this is Christmas?” That’s a great opening line and totally in keeping with the best that Lennon was capable of. So why don’t I like it?

There are a number of technical reasons that the song is less than stellar. Let’s start with the typically mushy production by Phil Spector — a man who destroyed a lot of otherwise fine music. There also isn’t much care taken in shoehorning the lyrics into that melody. Listening to “A very merry Christmas” is like listening to fingernails on chalkboard. It isn’t helped by the fact that we can hear Yoko Ono’s screeching on it. I’ve never doubted that she was a smart person, but she had no artistic talent to speak of. A poor person with that lack of talent would never have thought it acceptable to foist it on the public.

But to be honest, I could forgive all that. I just can’t take listening to John Lennon tell me how to improve the world from his installations at places like The Dakota. This was produced right at the time of “Imagine,” which has to be the most presumptuous song ever. But before you all tell me how wrong I am, remember that your opinions about these songs are just the same as mine: based upon feelings. I’m not saying that they aren’t competently written and professionally recorded; I’m not saying you shouldn’t like them; I’m just telling you why I find them annoying.

So this is “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”:

Anniversary Post: Yohl Ik’nal Rule

Yohl Ik'nal GlyphOn this day in 583, Yohl Ik’nal became ruler of the Mayan city-state of Palenque. This was during the height of Palenque’s power. She is notable as being the first known woman to have ruled the city — only one of two known to have ruled. She ruled when the population was roughly 5,000 people. That doesn’t sound like much, but that was on the high side of classical period Mayan city-states (pdf). What’s more, this is just the core population. We really don’t know what the population was in the surrounding area that supported the city.

At some point during Yohl Ik’nal’s reign, it was defeated by Calakmul. It then lived under the ultimate rule of the much bigger city-state. This didn’t change her rulership, but it did mean that Palenque had to pay taxes to Calakmul. But sometime toward the end of her reign or that of her successor (and possible son), Ajen Yohl Mat, Palenque managed to rid itself of Calakmul dominance.

She ruled for over 20 years, which is quite a lot longer than the other rules around her time. However, her grandson (or great-grandson — it’s amazing how these things aren’t well established), K’inich Janaab’ Pakal, ruled for a staggering 68 years — living to be 80 years old.