Wednesday, August 22, 2007

CNN asks how strong my faith is

CNN is requesting submissions under the title How strong is your faith? This rather presumes that the respondents will have religious faith:

Are you one of the millions of people who live by faith? Do you believe religion is under attack in modern society? Have the lines blurred too much or not enough between religion and politics?

Share your thoughts about faith and the state of religion in the world. Plus, send us your photos and video to show others how you worship.

I responded anyway, with the following:

I live by faith in what is manifest, rather than by invisible, unprovable and improbable tales from the infancy of our civilization.

This universe is magnificent in its scale in time and space, and marvellous in the hard-won complexity of the life in this infinitesimal corner of it. It seems to me sad and absurd that so many people feel they must cling to the simple myths of times long past.

Our lives are brief, but a frantic denial of their inevitable end is as childish as insisting that we are the entire point of the universe. I am reveling in my time, sharing the excitement of discovery with the other brief sparks I encounter, loving the wonderful accident that put me here. I need no faith in another life, my cup overflows in this one.

If others need their ancient, well-worn, classical hand-tooled lies to comfort them, then they are welcome to them. I won't pretend to respect them for it, and I certainly do not respect the silly fables themselves. If the religious try to impose their arbitrary beliefs on society through politics, I shall naturally oppose them, especially when their ideas detrimentally impact the lives of me and mine, or indeed anyone who suffers.

I don't believe religion is truly under attack; it is simply no longer receiving the unwarranted deference it has grown accustomed to. I consider that a very good thing which will in the end benefit us all, excepting perhaps those who derive a living or a spurious authority from the promulgation of ancient lies and mistakes.

My faith is strong, since it is rooted in the provable, not in old myths.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


Walking through darkness like damp fur,
each step a smothering slow beast-lick
rasping my thoughts with fetid purr

my mundane tongue lay faint and sick,
long lacking taste of honeyed phrase,
made silent from fear of the lunatic

eye of the Moon, twisted round in phase,
blindly sweeping, blandly seeking,
three quarters closed, its unfixed gaze

searching out mouse-men silently creeping
by shadowy watchers that hum and whirr,
counting the steps of those not sleeping,

watching me, and him, and her,
she weeping, he sleeping, me walking,
walking through darkness like damp, dank fur.

B.T. Murtagh

Monday, August 13, 2007

My Original Sin, and Innocence

Although it would take decades more for me to fully separate myself from my Catholic faith, the first crack from whence the chasm grew came about when I was thirteen or so.

Fittingly, perhaps, it was the story of the Original Sin which did it.

That was my third (or possibly fourth - long ago, gentle reader, and I didn't keep a diary) year at a Catholic secondary school in the English town where my father had decided to finish out his career with the USAF. (Both my parents held dual Irish and American citizenships, so there was no barrier to his retiring there.)

Prior to that I had experienced only secular American schools on various Air Force bases, and the change had actually made me rather devout. I was even an altar boy (and no, I was never sexually abused, nor to the best of my knowledge were any of the other boys). Even more significantly, now that I was taking Religious Education classes I began to read the Bible thoroughly, and apply a great deal of thought to what I read. That, and a dab of the deadly sin Pride, were to be the beginning of my downfall or liberation, depending on your point of view.

The story of the Original Sin, the Fall from Grace, was a natural fit for a class full of gawky adolescents struggling with puberty, I suppose. It was the first subject for which we were required to write a lengthy essay expressing our own thinking on a religious matter, and we were to concentrate on how it related to our own onrushing adulthood.

As it happened the subject was one I'd already been worrying at outside of class, because something about the story bothered me. What bothered me was this: Adam and Eve (and all their descendants, which also bothered me but that's another story) were punished for disobeying God. That was the Original Sin. This is the fundamental story of humanity's relationship to God, and it seemed to me then, and still seems to me now, that there's a gaping hole in the narrative logic which I have never seen addressed.

My concern was this: We were told that Adam and Eve were given the choice between good and evil, and chose evil by disobeying God... but at the time they did not know good from evil, not having eaten of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, so how could they possibly know it was evil to disobey God?

It seemed utterly wrong to me, because we were otherwise told that sin follows the intent - that to consider adultery was to have committed it, for example. To punish Adam and Eve (incredibly harshly) for doing something which by definition they couldn't know was wrong seemed impossible to justify, like holding a pre-verbal child to the standards of an adult.

(I hope I've made my objection clear; I have rarely if ever gotten a religious Christian to understand it, or at least to admit they understood it.)

Now, the Catholic Church does not in modern times insist on taking the Bible completely literally, which does save them from having to explain some of the more obvious impossibilities. (Then they dispose of the advantage by declaring the Pope infallible ex cathedra but that's yet another story.) Acceptance of (suitably theistic) evolution was allowed even thirty years ago, and the Eden story could be regarded as a parable, an allegory, a story essentially but not literally true. (Unlike, say, virgins getting pregnant or three-day corpses returning to life, but that's yet another whole collection of stories.)

So, since it was just a story, I decided to rewrite it. My version, somewhat condensed, went something like this:

There were in Eden two Trees, a Tree of Life and a Tree of Knowledge. God, who was knowing*, did not want Adam to become as God was, and therefore warned Adam that if he ate of the latter he would surely know death.

Now it happened that the serpent, who was one of God's earliest creations, found himself becoming too slow to obtain his customary food. The serpent therefore ate instead the fruit of the Tree of Life, and that night to his astonishment he shed his skin and became young again.

Eve saw the serpent and, amazed at the transformation, asked the serpent how he had become so beautiful. The serpent duly told her that he had eaten the fruit of the Tree, and had shed his skin during the night, and been made clean and new by it. Eve decided therefore to eat from the Tree also, thinking to make herself beautiful for the pleasure of Adam's sight.

Unfortunately, she plucked the fruit of the wrong Tree; she ate from the Tree of Knowledge, and not the Tree of life.

Adam came upon Eve just as she ate, and he was horrified at the thought that his heart's love would die, simply because he'd failed to pass God's warning on to her. When Eve explained to Adam that the serpent had already eaten of it, that it would not kill them, and that in the morning they will have beautiful new skins, Adam wanted so mightily to believe her that he began to doubt his memory of God's warning.

In any case he did not want to live without Eve, if she were to die, so Adam bit into the fruit also.

Alas, when the sun rose their skin was not made new as the serpent's had been, and for the first time it appeared ugly to them, for they saw how it had the beginnings of age upon it. Ashamed for the first time of their nakedness, they set about making new skins for themselves out of leaves and thread. Thus it was that when God came looking for them, they were hidden in the forest by their clothes. Their shame had hidden them from God's sight, and when God realized this His Heart filled with angry grief.

God then proceeded to tell them that they would now know death, and age, and sorrow, and pain. God was not imposing punishment on them by this; rather, those things had already existed in their lives, but they didn't know those things. They were unconscious of the meaning of death, in their innocence, but now they knew death, just as God had originally warned Adam he would.

By eating of the Tree of Knowledge, they had indeed become like God; they had become adult, in fact, and not even God could ever return to them the Eden of their former innocence.

* Not, you'll note, all-knowing, any more than he was in the original.

I was rather pleased with my effort. Not only did it avoid holding the first people culpable of evil despite their innocence from evil, and not only did God come off less of a vindictive bastard, but even the serpent caught a break from the blame-fest... yet it still retained and even expanded upon the themes of natural justice, of the loss of innocence and the shouldering of responsibility, plus it put in a good deal more about the nature of love.

Did I mention the school practiced corporal punishment? My ass was bruised for a week.

The physical beating was nothing compared to the guilt trip they put on me, though. Rewriting a bible story? I learned it was the blackest sort of heresy, and my soul was a hair's breadth from being used as Lucifer's cigar lighter. Oh, I can joke about it now, but I believed then, and the idea terrified me to tears, even more than the idea of them calling my parents in. I avoided both fates by agreeing to hie me to the church to confess and repent directly after school, which I did. And yet, and yet...

It did not escape me that I was suffering dire punishment, and threats of more punishment, infinitely worse punishment, for doing something I hadn't even known was wrong, and with the best of intentions. More, in the course of haranguing me and batting aside my explanations, my teachers had made clear to me that hellfire awaited many, many innocents - millions of them, in fact, millions guilty only of not knowing what God considered a crime, not knowing what God wanted.

It also didn't escape me, upon reflection, that God could have avoided all that, by being just the teensiest bit clearer in his wishes and evident in his presence... and therefore he must have wanted it to be that way.

As I said in the beginning, it took decades more to get where I am; one decade to fully shake the belief, I'd say, one to shake the belief in belief, and this last one to fully commit myself, publicly and proudly, to fighting the evil skewing that religion does to the minds of even - dare I say it? - the innocent.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

New schema

A couple of people mentioned that the white on black schema was a tad more stylish than legible for them. I picked that one because I find a darker background easier on my eyes, but I can see where a gentler contrast might be in order.

I hope the new schema combines legibility with restfulness. Feedback is always appreciated!

Update: I've also combined the separate rolls I had into one, because so many fell into multiple categories.

God's a pacifist?

Over on Daily Kos I just read a comment by a presumed Christian who was (quite properly) rather disparaging of people who kill in the name of (the Christian) God.

No argument there, but the poster claimed 'Yeah, the same God who said "Thou Shalt Not Kill". I wonder if any of these yahoos who want to "kill in the name of Jesus" realize that not only was Jesus a pacifist, his Dad was too.'

Don't Christians read their Bible? Jesus's pacifism is shaky enough, what with the not-peace-but-a-sword bit and his prophesied battling in Revelations, but God the FATHER a pacifist?

That's a little hard to square with his personal destruction of everyone on Earth outside Noah's family (Genesis), of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (ibid.), of every man and beast in Egypt outside Goshen (Exodus), the firstborn of the remaining Egyptians (ibid.), smiting of over a hundred thousand in plagues (Numbers, 2 Samuel), and dozens of smaller atrocities from the hundreds of people dead down to individual rubouts.

God (the Father) also personally commanded or condoned the genocides of the people of Amalek (Exodus), the Canaanites (Numbers), the Midianites (ibid.), the people of Sihon (Deuteronomy), the people of Og (ibid.), the people of Ai (Joshua), the Gibeonites, the people of Makkedah, the Libnahites, the people of Lachish, the Eglonites, the Hebronites, the Debirites, and the Anakim (ibid.), and again there are dozens of smaller atrocities ranging from hundreds of thousands of deaths down to individual murders either personally commanded or condoned by God, including women, children and animals.

I'm not even counting the rapes and maimings here.

Pacifist? I sincerely hope the Christians who think so have not been reading their holy book, because if they have and they really think that's pacifism I'm going to have to find some remote bit of the remaining wilderness to move to.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Story of Job

I can't add anything to drunkenotter's (Nathanael Scott's) (the Goon Bible Project's) excellent summation of the Book of Job.

Gentle Stones

He was far and outside and unseen
when the city wind promised him a song.
He heard music from the Instruments,
ivory chimes and soft iron bells.

"Beauty is before me," he said. "Beauty behind me."

He was far outside the words he'd seen.
He was surprised by his reception.
He hadn't expected the city's growth,
the flower of crystal and stone.

"Beauty is on my right," he said. "Beauty on my left."

Eyes looked at him sideways, mostly,
as if he were too bright to see,
or just a little embarrassing.
No one was quite sure which, or why.

"Beauty is above me," he said. "Below me, dust."

Flowers were strewn in his path,
or leaves maybe. Maybe it was pearls,
Or it could have been rubies.
Plants, or stones, or possibly people.

"Beauty is within me," he said. "No beauty without me."

The earth, soft dappled with roses,
met his sky with leaves and promises.
His mouth was filled with rubies and pearls.
They are gentle stones the pilgrims throw.

B.T. Murtagh