It’s like a penis…

A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of starting up a weekly limited feature focused on topics that some people might consider controversial, unpopular, or otherwise not appropriate for polite company. Nothing much came of the idea then, but it has stewed in my head ever since. This is the next of what I like to think will be a recurring series of Friday evening contemplations. If you’re easily offended, or for some reason have gotten the impression that your friends or family members have to agree with you on every conceivable topic, this might be a good time to look away. While it’s not my intention to be blatantly offensive, I only control the words I use, not how they’re received or interpreted.

I was raised Methodist, but as an adult the only interest I’ve really had in religion is an academic one. It’s hard, after all, to study any aspect of European (and by extension, American) history since the Romans pulled out without at least tangentially touching on the premise of Christianity and how it has been practiced and applied during the centuries.

My take is pretty consistently that religion, in spite of whatever uplifting and comforting elements it may have, has mostly been used as a cudgel against anyone who refused to live and die by its tenants. The Crusades, the European wars of religion, witch hunts, orthodoxy tests, and more laws based on “church teachings” than you could shake a forest of sticks at are just the most obvious examples. And that’s only including the violence-in-the-name-of-God delivered up under the auspices of Christianity. The rest of the pantheon is hardly less bloodthirsty.

Despite what the Moral Majority or whatever the religious right wants to call themselves these days says, the United States was not founded as a Christian country. I’m sorry. It just wasn’t. Saying that it was is simply presenting facts not in evidence. Actually, it’s flat out lying. The Founding Fathers went out of their way to codify the prohibition against establishing a state religion right there in the Bill of Rights. It follows directly from that prohibition that “because it’s what Jesus would want” is a singularly problematic reason to pass a law – it’s every bit as invalid as justifying your laws in the name of Allah, Vishnu, Zeus, or Ra. 

I know it’s a hard pill for the seriously religious to swallow, but it’s entirely possible to be an upright and honorable man without the threat of eternal punishment hanging over your head. In fact, if the only reason you’re “doing the right thing” is because you fear eternal hellfire, one might say you’re responding only to fear rather than any actual personal commitment to being morally upright. Being a decent person only because you’re under duress means you’re not, by definition, a decent person to begin with. 

I’m sure organized religion has many virtues for its practitioners. That’s fine. I don’t want to take any of those virtues away from them. They can rule their homes by the precepts of whatever God or gods they see fit. If they’re really feeling froggy, they can probably even gaggle up some like-minded folks and live their theocratic dream in a community setting. I am, however, going to insist that they don’t expect me to subscribe to and live quietly under some evangelical theocratic nightmare government they want to inflict on everyone else. I presume only the same liberty of conscience I extend to them. In fact, I insist on it… because otherwise, I’ll raise up and army myself and strike their tract-quoting, puritanical asses down.

As the poet said, “Religion is like a penis. It’s nice to have one and fine to be proud of, but don’t whip it out in public or shove it down someone else’s throat.” When you choose to ignore such wisdom, it makes it awfully difficult to see any significant difference between Christian extremists and the goddamned Taliban. The lesson, probably, is maybe try not to be some kind of asshole extremist and try some of that peace and tolerance that your God was so fond of talking about.

The reason for the season…

Christmas is soon to be upon us. Yes, yes, it’s all about Jesus and Santa and shopping and family. I’m more than passingly familiar with what makes the contemporary Christmas season swing. I personally don’t have a thing against any of it.

Still, though, I think we’re all forgetting what makes this season really important… and that’s the simple truth that the winter solstice is about to arrive and that within a few days the amount of daylight we enjoy here in the northern hemisphere will start getting measurably longer. It’ll be an agonizingly slow process, but with a few weeks it will be really noticeable. Instead of darkness at 4:45, it will have pushed nightfall back to 5:00 PM and it won’t be pitch black when I take the dogs out for the last time before work.

I’ve never been the kind of guy who wants to lay out soaking up the sun, but I can certainly understand why there’s a thread running through ancient civilizations that finds many of them celebrating the Sun as a god. I’m not a particularly religious person by anyone’s standards, but you can bet your sweet ass I’ll be giving thanks this holiday season that the longest night of the year is about to be comfortably in the rear view and longer days are ahead.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

After a brief hiatus due to Thanksgiving induced laziness, What Annoys Jeff this Week is back by popular demand. As always, here they are in no particular order:

Lame news headlines. In the age of digital media, I get that what qualifies as news might not now be on the same journalistic level as was expected in the heyday of newspapers and network news broadcasts. But really, a banner headline screaming “THANKSGIVING TRAVELERS HEAD HOME” seems like one of those things that should pretty much be expected the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I mean was anyone expecting large numbers of people to go away for Thanksgiving and never come back. I’m not asking for much, just a little journalistic perspective and common sense. Oh yeah, I guess I am asking for too much. Never mind then. Carry on.

Shouting. Yelling across a room full of cubicles to ask a question is not a substitute for the old fashioned intercom system. Actually, it’s not a substitute for anything. We have phones, email, and instant messaging at our desks. In a pinch, we could even walk the 20 feet to ask a question if we really had to, so wall to wall shouting is really unnecessary. Especially at 7:45AM. Maybe I’ll start wrapping notes around small rocks and winging them in the general direction of people when I need to get information to them. That would be at least as effective and much more entertaining.

The Internet. The internet really should be a privilege and not a right. I’m all in favor of people having a difference of opinion on important issues. That’s good. That’s healthy. But only when it’s an informed opinion. When it’s not, well, you’re just left with a large group of incoherently rambling lunatics whose only justification for anything is “that’s just what I think.” While that might be good enough for Jesus and you mother to keep loving you, the rest of us think you’re an asshat.

Runnin’ (jumpin’) with the devil…

I was all set to bring you a different story tonight – a quick thought on the nature of Facebook and the people we meet at different stages of our life. That’s going to have to wait for a day or two now, because the devil has been sighted in a Paris suburb. Apparently he’s not only been sighted, but he’s also been stabbed by his quick thinking sister-in-law. Not a good day to be the prince of darkness, I suppose.

According to our good friends at the Belfast Telegraph, a total of 12 adults and children took part in this visionary experience that started when “A wife in the next room saw her husband moving around naked and began screaming that he was the devil… In the confusion following this apparent case of mistaken identity, the naked man’s sister-in-law stabbed him in the hand and he was ejected through the front door of the flat… When the man forced his way back in, they all began screamed in terror and leapt from the balcony screaming ‘Jesus! Jesus!'”

One has to assume that there is some kind of back story here. I mean even the morning after the most unfortunate one night stand, does anyone wake up and think the naked person in the room with them is the actual devil? Even in the depths of the worst hangover, I have to think that there’s a tiny little sober spot in the back of your head that tells you, “oh, that’s the guy I picked up at the pub last night and not the devil.” I’d think that’s even more true when the accused demon is actually your husband. I mean one can reasonably assume that you’ve seen him naked a time or two before, right? I mean I’m not a theologian, but the devil has horns on his… uhh… head, right? I can only assume that whatever horn-shaped appendage you saw was decidedly not on in the general region of his head. This problematic anatomy could have been a bit of a giveaway, no?

I’m forced to agree with the assistant prosecutor working the case when he allows that “A number of points surrounding this incident remain to be cleared up.” Yeah. This ought to be interesting.

In the flesh…

So when things get a little loud and obnoxious in the office, I usually whip out my headphones and listen to the streaming audio from WJFK in DC. Well, I was listening to Don & Mike on Wednesday and caught the tail end of one of those annoying “messages” that a local church buys. The bit I actually caught was “… we believe Jesus was the son of God wrapped in human flesh… Not a sermon, just a thought.”

For the record, if you are trying to market your deity, it may be a good idea to keep down the “wrapped in human flesh” imagery. I’m just not sure you thought that phrase through all the way. Am I missing something here, or does this have a very high “skeeve” factor?