Monday, 20 August 2012

Fascinated by Faith, Repulsed by Religion

I may have gotten soft in my old age but recent experience has given me pause for thought.  While naturally inclined to the Richard Dawkins copyrighted “fire and brimstone” branch of atheism, I have begun to wonder if there could be a better approach, something a little more inclusive, a little more human.  

I am fascinated by faith and always enjoy speaking to those who "get" it precisely because I don't. Where it "feels" true to them in their soul I feel a gloriously empty space - the fact there is no god seems as obvious and natural to me as the fact praying is useful does to them.   I can't imagine that we could ever come to a compromise position and I have long passed trying to de-convert the godly.  But could the Atheist movement (whatever that is) be  a place more welcoming to the waverers?  As most Atheists I meet are both warm and lovely this seemed sensible.  I enjoyed the idea of some-one who might still have faith but can no longer follow the diktat of their religion could find a place where they could stretch their spiritual legs without ridicule. I agree, by the way with Sam Harris on using that word.  There is a clear distinction between those of private deist faith and a fundamentalist psychopath and so it would be stupid to lump all of those with faith in the same box.  After all some of my best friends are Christians...

Ultimately though, I guess I enjoyed the mischievous idea of sticking a friendly 2 fingers at the pious and saying “see we’re even better at being nice then you are”.

So resolute in my softening approach to those with faith, I hoped to engage and enjoy the  world of faith in a more cheerful and cheering way. The world of religion responded with some of the most stupid, ignorant, bigoted, evil, motivated by God nastiness it had available.

While reeling, confused by the notion that 3 girls are being sent to a penal colony for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” or more accurately “dancing in a church”, I was appalled by the news of a young girl in Pakistan. The idea that she should face any censure let alone the death penalty for maybe burning some pieces of paper literally makes a beggar of belief.

Patriarch Kirill can spit against every notion of moral modernity and be smugly protected by blasphemy laws. A Pakistani Mob can burn people from their homes in a rampage of ethnic cleansing and be applauded for upholding the values of their faith.

But we might say (if we were being faintly post-colonial polite racist) these places are poor, they are not educated, there will be many local issues that have contributed; we don’t understand enough to judge.

Well, in that case we wouldn’t have the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland playing “I’m taking my ball back and you can’t play” over gay Marriage.  Or for that instance Todd Atkin a Missouri Republican Who recently had to invent new definitions of rape in order to square the circle of his religious belief and the constitutional right of a woman to control her own body. I am left wondering which semester of his Divinity Masters Degree did he learn about half rape.

Both these guys have every benefit that being a white, educated male born in the west during the second half of the 20th Century can bring.  Neither is stupid, nor I would presume evil, but both have been pushed into behaving abhorrently by an out-dated doctrine they cannot shake and feel compelled to follow.

So sorry god(s), I will keep trying to show understanding to your flock and I do realise that having faith doesn't mean a person will be an automaton of your capricious will.  But while your rules and sacred texts provide cover and inspiration for the taking of political prisoners, ethnic cleansing, homo-phobia and misogyny I will reserve the right to be as dis-respectful about you and those rules as I wish.  And I will apologise to those nice faithful friends who I might upset, but the flip side of your coin is too unpleasant for me to ignore... 

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Things I Learned On My Summer Vacation

I recently spent a couple of weeks cruising around the good old US of A. I didn't want to bore you or myself with a full recap, but here a few morsels of observation from my travels, for what it's worth.

Las Vegas is a silly, silly place. No matter how many times you've seen it on TV, in films, on the internet, the reality is they've got a ruddy great pyramid shining a light into space so bright you can see it 40 miles away.

In Minneapolis I went to see Banner Pilot at the legendary Triple Rock Social Club. The first of 4 bands came on at 9:30; Minneapolis rockers do it late!

Wisconsin's billboards are divided evenly between pro-life sentiment and cheese curds.

In Chicago I checked into an unplanned bed and breakfast and my host recognised the tour my Primus t-shirt was from. Then I ate 3 different types of ribs. That's the kind of town Chicago is.

Toledo is a bit of a ghost town, with much of the industry gone; a "mini-Detroit" as my host put it. However its Old West End has some super-friendly locals and bars serving, and in some cases brewing, great beer.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland will easily entertain you for 4 hours.

In Buffalo there is a very distinct racial segregation, weird and sad to see in this day and age. I had good times at a free show at the harbour though, where music and booze united everyone. I've not been to Baltimore but Buffalo felt like The Wire.

I saw Foxy Shazam playing a small show in Asbury Park, New Jersey. If you get chance to see them, do it: you will thank me. Unfortunately Asbury Park itself was less Boss and more Jersey Shore; by which I mean a sub-par British seaside town full of idiots.

In New York I went to Williamsburg Music Hall in Brooklyn to see the great things being done at Willie Mae Rock Camp, teaching girls to rock. Then I hung out in Manhattan, where a passing Deadhead clocked my Zappa t-shirt and gig wristband and became convinced I was a member of Roger Waters' band (in town for his 'The Wall' shows).

Los Angeles is a huge, sprawling metropolis, comprised almost entirely of motorways, which themselves are comprised entirely of traffic jams.

A final thought: living in England I have heard countless people criticise American beer. I am here to confirm that those people are ignorant and wrong - and have probably never ventured further than a Bud Light; the equivalent of judging the UK on Carling or Australia on Fosters. In almost 3 weeks I had plenty of beers and never a bad one. There's a great microbrewery scene going down in the US right now.