The subject of Perfection In Heaven has been crossing my path recently, most likely via a podcast (Atheists Talk (iTunes link) by Minnesota Atheists, Ask an Atheist, the Atheist Community of Austin‘s Atheist Experience or Non-Prophets (iTunes link), or FFRF‘s Freethought Radio).
This is the proposition that
(a) we are fallen, imperfect beings unworthy of God’s love,
(b) if we accept [insert appropriate deity of choice], we will be given God’s grace despite our unworthiness, and
(c) get into heaven, where
(d) we will become perfect beings.
Of course, proposition (d) is in direct contradiction with proposition (a). That is, if we are fundamentally flawed, then when we become perfected, we will not be ourselves. So the “person” who gets to heaven is not the person we were—it is not us.
I had a dream last night that involved my father, mother, and I. We were going on vacation. And when I woke up, I realized that neither of them acted nor looked like my parents…but in the dream (as it is with dreams), they were my parents. With all that that entailed—except for the few things that were left out to comport with the dream-parents.
So I got to thinking: maybe that’s what it’s like in heaven. We’re just duped into thinking that the people around us are the people we think they are and, similarly, that we are the person we think we were. Memories get conveniently changed.
In any case, it’s a strange proposition that reminded me both how strange dreams are and how strange religion is. And how closely they resemble each other.
Holiday spirit is in the air and I’ll be spending the day with friends, family, and more friends—the best way to do a holiday, in my opinion. But as the earth springs back to life (yes, it’s visible, even Where There Are No Seasons), I find myself gazing out of windows and breathing more deeply when I’m outside, enjoying the subtle changes and beauty that surround me.
So I’m going to share that beauty. (Hit full screen for best results.)
What is religion’s role in gender discrimination?
I heard about Agora from Jason over at the Wild Hunt. He first mentioned it in ’08, where he extolled it as likely to be a Pagan-friendly work. Well, that was enough for me, so I waited for it to come out.
And waited some more.
Meanwhile, Jason was giving occasional tidbits: the movie was to center around the life of Hypatia and the destruction of the great library at Alexandria. I vaguely remembered the name Hypatia from posters my mom had around the Math room of Women In Mathematics, but that was about it. So I added to my “Reasons To See This Movie” list “feminism”. Somewhere along the line (likely also from the Wild Hunt, although I can’t find the post), I heard that Christians were up in arms about the movie because it depicted them as violent oppressors of Pagans; you know, because it was historically accurate. So I added “anti-Christian” to that list. Anything that upsets the Christians is probably worth my time.
Well, it has finally been released and I went to see it yesterday. (Two days ago, it was playing at two, count them two, theaters in LA. Yesterday, it was down to one. If you have any interest, find a local theater now or it will be gone.)
A. Maz. Ing. While it did treat Pagans perhaps more sympathetically than Christians would hope, what I got out of it was more atheistic than pagan. The film takes place in the midst of the clash of three religions: the Hellenic/Egyptian paganism of the elite class, the Christianity of the slaves and masses, and the Judaism of the middle class. And clash they do. The film impressed upon me the fact that religions are a danger to those around them; this was true across the board.
Further, two of the main characters changed religion: both for an increase in their social status. Religion, then, is viewed both as something changeable and as expedient. Both undergo crises of faith which are met with two responses. One is told to neither doubt nor question; the other is guided by a friend toward an even deeper faith. In the end, the first realizes the error and acts to undo the harm religion has caused; the second becomes ever further entrenched in the religion. I found this to be a wonderful allegory to how religion often treats its adherents: those who are given the strongarm (don’t question, just have faith) are more likely to leave while those whose questions are dealt with sensitively end up further in. Perhaps, also, the relationship with the questioner’s answerer is important; for the one who leaves, the apologist is a cold, violent missionary; for the one who stays, the apologist is a trusted friend who knows the true reason for the questioning.
The film is also quite a good piece of historical fiction. It takes a time about which much is known and brings to life certain characters about which slightly less is known. The major events of the film happened; and likely happened in the way they are depicted. The relationships between the characters may or may not be true, but are a reason to watch the film. The New York Times‘ film reviewer said, that there is no sugar coating on the difficult subjects and certainly, horrifying events like the destruction of the library are shown in almost gory detail. The sins of humanity’s past are laid bare for us to see. And for us to wonder whether or not they are truly in our past.
I don’t want to give too much away, but I found it to be a rousing film for feminists, historians, and atheists alike.
Perhaps the most interesting part for me was the depiction of the Christian morality police, the Parabalani (here is the Catholic Encyclopedia entry and the Wikipedia one, which is mostly just copied, although there are some word changes which make it a wee bit more objective). Their depiction in the film was quite interesting. The Mutaween they were not, but they were certainly violent defenders of the [Christian] faith.
Definitely worth watching, whether to enjoy the rich visuals of Hellenic Egypt, to savor the ever-wonderful storytelling of Alejandro Amenábar, to bask in the feminism of the world’s first-known female mathematician (and astronomer and philosopher), to stick it to the Christian man by enjoying a world where pagans held power and Christians were the rioting mob, or to revel in the antitheistic message of a time when violence ruled all religions—just like today.
The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America reads (in pertinent part):
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
This has, historically, been interpreted to include other official acts by the government. Here, “Congress” is read (due to the context of the other Amendments, which I will not get into here) to mean “the government, including both the federal government and the State governments (with ‘State government’ including all smaller governments including municipal, county, &c.)”. This understanding the word “Congress” has been a long time in the making. The other words in this clause (often called “the Establishment Clause”) seem straightforward: “no law”, “establishment”, and “religion”.
Unfortunately, there is now a movement to redefine the most important word of the Establishment Clause in a much narrower fashion.
Already, there are religionists who claim that “freedom of religion is not freedom from religion” and work toward the end of establishing their own religion (often some form of Christianity). What this means is often that public prayer should be allowed (since all religions pray) and that missionary work has a place in the classroom (since students are free to be a different religion but not free to be atheists).
Now, this is proving insufficient for some groups.
[T]he word “religion” has a meaning today that was not the
meaning the Founders […] the word “religion” in the Religion Clauses means monotheism.
Whaaaaa? Well, that wipes out Catholicism (frequently touted by Protestants to be a tritheistic or even goddess-worshipping faith), Buddhism (which is an non-theistic faith), all forms of polytheism, pantheism, bitheism and, yes, atheism. Jewish believers could make the case that Christianity is polytheistic (if Jesus is God, that makes two!). Islamic believers could make the case that they are the only true monotheistic faith (their belief requires subscription to the statement “There is only one God: God.”). I wonder if pagans who only worship one god (lets say…Loki, since I see His hand in all this) could make the case that they were true monotheists. Does this also exclude all goddess worshipers (since “theology” is often distinguished, in goddess circles, from “thealogy”)? What about deists? Are they the “right” kind of monotheists? Are Mormons?
It is one thing to allow freedom of conscience to all. It is another to trust atheists to testify at trial or hold office.
This extremely narrow definition of “religion” has enormous and far-reaching impacts outside of the case this amicus brief was filed in. (A matter brought by a pagan chaplain who was rejected from a position as a chaplain at a California jail because he was not a chaplain in one of the jail’s five officially-recognized faiths.) The amicus brief is worth the read (it’s not filled with legalese) for anyone who (a) is not a monotheist, (b) is concerned with freedom of religion in this country, or (c) is concerned with equality in this country. Religionists (and most often, they are Christian religionists) are out to take your rights away. And “you” is everyone who is not the exact right kind of Christian in the minds of these religionists.
[Hat tip to the Wild Hunt Blog, a wonderful pagan news source. I've often noted that I'm maybe half atheist and half pagan—the Wild Hunt is one of the best sources for information on free exercise as it pertains to non-Christians. Jason at Wild Hunt has been tracking this story with Is The First Amendment for Monotheists Only? and A Few Updates and Announcements.]
This article on how the X and Y generations are leaving religion like lemmings turning back from the cliff is actually from xJane, but she’s chin-deep in finals, so asked me to pass this on to you all. Money quote:
“Many of them are people who would otherwise be in church,” Putnam said. “They have the same attititudes and values as people who are in church, but they grew up in a period in which being religious meant being politically conservative, especially on social issues.”
Putnam says that in the past two decades, many young people began to view organized religion as a source of “intolerance and rigidity and doctrinaire political views,” and therefore stopped going to church.
You could say the same thing about the Republican Party these days as well.
This is how our president defined our country yesterday. Explicitly denying that it was a “Christian nation” and explicitly stating that this fact is one of our “great strengths”.
It’s nice to be reminded of this—and by someone so high in the administration! It is vogue for politicians to exclaim “God bless America!” Whether or not The Divine smiles upon us is not the issue, the issue is which Divinity is being invoked. Likely not mine, which makes me bristle. Change the invocation just a bit and even the Christian right will object: “Allah bless America” and “Goddess bless America” are nearly epithets.
I look forward to what the religious response to this will be—will our secular roots continue to be denied? Will this be further proof that Obama is the anti-Christ? Or will this be accepted as an endorsement of pluralism? An invitation to dialogue?
Our country is yet young and still going through growing pains. I see our insistence on religion in the public sphere as evidence of this. I think the Secular Coalition’s crowing may work against them, but this may indicate, not a turning away from religion but a turning towards acceptance of non-religion. A big step for us.
It’s got it all: atheism, spirituality, god, scifi, and good music!! Hulu’s got the first four eps up right now (and it doesn’t keep them forever), so go catch up. It’s too smart and too well written to stay on the air for long.
It’s the story of Kings David and Saul transposed into a country that looks like present-day America. It’s smart, sometimes funny, and often reminds me of Dune with it’s spiritual overtones (the King has been selected by a nebulous God, only to be usurped by the next King by the same God). Each ep gives me another song that I want to get (including one by Liszt). The characters are sympathetic and real, even the minor ones; the issues that they have are painful and don’t feel contrived.
This is a new generation of scifi—it’s not utopian or dystopian. It’s just other. And awesome.
This episode is 94% Temple, 6% Beer. Mostly I talk about the throat-slitting penalty that was removed from the endowment ceremony in 1990, when I still had the (mis)fortune of experiencing it.
I would love to hear your feedback.
Most of my attributions got edited out (I had to seriously shorten my ramblings, believe it or not), and I had intended to include them in the accompanying post, so thanks Wren, for the reminder! The excerpts I read are from “Bad Blood, Good Blood: Mountain Meadows Massacre and the Atoning Sacrifice of John D. Lee,” a paper I wrote for a religious studies class three years ago. I also quote from David Buerger’s The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship. You can download the entire paper (in Microsoft Word format). It was great fun to write, stringing together with some academic glue (a la Rene Girard) a massacre and secret vengeance oaths and bloody sacrificial atonement by firing squad. Here’s the part I read in the video:
The vengeance oath is but one of several that Mormons took in temple ceremonies. In three of these oaths, temple initiates promised not to reveal certain secret hand gestures, passwords, and penalties associated with these “signs.” The penalties were particularly violent in their symbolism and deserve some attention.
The penalties had verbal and somatic components. In the nineteenth century, Mormons taking several of the oaths would describe the manner of death (i.e., the penalty) prescribed for breaking the respective vow while pantomiming the manner of death. In 1927, most of this harsh language was removed:
The language of a number of penalties was tempered. For example, previously initiates had agreed that revealing endowment secrets would bring these penalties: “[Let my throat…be cut from ear to ear, and my tongue torn out by its roots”; “our breasts…be torn open, our hearts and vitals torn out and given to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field”; and “your body…be cut asunder and all your bowels gush out.” Now these penalties simply alluded to “different ways in which life may be taken.” (Brueger, p.141. Also, see note #14.)
The penalties were not a purely Mormon innovation. Joseph Smith probably was inspired by Masonry when creating the oaths and penalties. There are parallel actions and language in Masonic rites, and there is plenty of evidence that Smith and many men who were close to him were practicing Masons in Nauvoo.
The penalties were wholly eliminated from the endowment when the ceremony was streamlined in April 1990. I participated in my own endowment rite a month before these changes were made and had the opportunity to enact the penalties before they were removed. I remember two of the three. When the officiator administered one of the oaths and said (speaking for us), “it would be better for me to take my life,” those of us in attendance mimed, in a stylized manner, slitting our throats from one ear to the other (with our thumb representing the knife). In a later oath we mimed our own disembowelment. Speaking from personal experience, I have a visceral response to this part of the ritual that I do not have to any other elements. The throat-slitting action is particularly strong in my memory, perhaps because it is reinforced by its usage in popular culture outside of the Mormon temple. It is acknowledged that ritual is a powerful teaching tool; I suspect that violent ritual is even more so, because it has the potential to provoke an instinctive visceral response that is then associated with the contextual teaching.
Finally, the beer. It was an Alesmith Wee Heavy Scotch Ale (our favorite, Kiltlifter from Moylan’s, falls into this category). You saw the head in the video. The feel was kinda lighter than I expected from a dark, high alcohol ale. It is strong on the malt, sweet, and what bitter there is comes as much from the smokey, caramelized malt as from the light hops. Since I dream of the highlands, and am not so much into hops, this is a *perfect* beer for me. Cheers!
Texas is reviewing its science standards, specifically with the desire to remove them altogether. Skepchick has a great discussion of exactly what this means, but here’s the short version:
Now: what you can do:
Just to drive home the point that we need to actually educate our children, not just indoctrinate them, here is a recent BBC documentary (in 6 10-minute segments) about a 13-year old girl, Deborah, who lives on her parents’ farm with some of her 10 brothers and sisters (the ones who haven’t yet left home to spread the Good News.
Deborah and her siblings have been home schooled and rarely leave the compound. When she does, it’s to give tracts out to her peers while they’re waiting for the bus. Her oldest brother has moved out and is working toward a chef’s degree. Deborah leaves home to go visit him in the fourth segment.
The whole thing is worth a watch, even though it’s long. My favorite part (besides the general creepiness and the “omg, it’s my sisters!”-ness of it) is that her brother is specifically turned off by flirting women. I can’t wait for the follow up documentary after that one hits.
Today, the Obama Administration signed onto the UN call for the decriminalization of homosexuality. In 77 countries, it is a crime to be attracted to members of the same sex, and in seven, merely being gay is punishable by death.
This UN declaration has nothing to do with visiting rights or adoption or insurance for partners or marriage or sex: we’re talking about the criminalization of a fundamental desire. The U.S. under a conservative Evangelical Christian last year and many Islamic states and the Vatican still refuse to sign something that asserts that gays have the basic right to life. Someone want to make the case, in this context, that conservative religion is a force for progress?
Finally, I have to say that I am impressed with the Secretary of State’s strong advocacy:
Human rights is and always will be one of the pillars of our foreign policy. In particular, persecution and discrimination against gays and lesbians is something we take very seriously.
Well spoken, Madame Clinton. This is why I voted for your boss.