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The Fact-free Future

Embracing Ignorance


(VANCOUVER ISLAND) As western politics become increasingly polarised, and the liberal vs. conservative battle lines are drawn ever more far apart, one feature of the conflict becomes particularly bemusing: questions of scientific fact have become politicised.

In the 21st Century, issues that are clearly susceptible to empirical investigation and rational analysis have become litmus tests for one’s political persuasion, despite the salient fact that, on the surface at life-beginsleast, there is nothing whatever political about the subjects. At what moment does human life start? At birth? At viability? At quickening? At conception? At erection? Scientific questions, certainly, but the religious implications are clear; and where issues of religion and legislation collide, politics becomes the battlefield. But then there are other clearly scientific subjects that have even more tenuous connections to politics.

Anthropogenic climate change is simply and obviously a question that falls squarely within the realm of scientific analysis. And yet its acceptance or rejection is an indicator of one’s political leanings. Ditto for the purely scientific discussion of evolution and the part it plays in human and other organisms’ development over Earth’s history. Nevertheless, both of those subjects, within the political world at least, are deeply divisive. In the scientific world, there is no genuine controversy over either scientific theory; climate change is real and it is caused by human activity; evolution is real and it is the explanation for the origin and development of species.

quantum2The interesting thing, though, about the politicisation of those scientific theories is that their acceptance is virtually universal by the political left, while their rejection is comparably pervasive by the right. How does it happen that the conservative political stance has come to include a contemptuous disdain for science, for expertise, education, and knowledge on the one hand, and an enthusiastic embrace of gut feeling, of unsupported dogma, and of belief over knowledge? And why is the left more predisposed to accept science and rational analysis as their decision-making criteria than the right?

The short answer is that the conservative viewpoint tends to be shared, in North America particularly, by those who self-define as Christian, evangelical, fundamentalist, or born again; it is the religious conviction of conservatives that makes scientific questions political. Politics, as such, has no disagreement with science; but the religion of political conservatives most certainly does. Religion, persecutionparticularly Christianity, has a long and chequered history of butting heads with science. Scientists, Galileo perhaps most famously, have put their lives at risk to express scientific discoveries that met with the disapproval of the Christian church leaders.

 Stephen J Gould proposed the notion of “non-overlapping magisteria”. The idea was to separate the realms of science and religion and accord each the respect they deserve, while accepting that their intellectual content did not intrude on each other’s; that their areas – magisteria – of subject matter did not overlap. Science, according to Gould’s doctrine of NOM, would deal with questions susceptible to empirical and rational observation and investigation, while religion would deal with matters of revealed knowledge, the supernatural, and faith-based belief. Unfortunately, Professor Gould’s elegant and simple solution to the conflict between religious belief and science couldn’t stand up to real life testing.

an_inconvenient_truth_vs_a_reassuring_lieThe main problem with the NOM doctrine with respect to the political realm is that Christian activists are dedicated to the elimination of the separation of church and state; activist Christian groups are explicitly working to bring about a Christian theocracy in the United States. And, given that their brand of Christianity is largely based on the view that every word of their Bible is literally true, they read the bible as a scientific and historical text as well as a theological text.

Thus, the US conservative movement is comprised of those who adhere to the scientifically ludicrous “young Earth” dogma. The notion that every genuine scientist is simply wrong in the assertion the Earth formed some four and a half billion years ago and that life arose eons later and through a process of natural selection evolved into what we see around us today, is part of their religious belief. Therefore, their religious dogma that the Earth was created in seven twenty-four hour days some six thousand years ago, that mankind shared the planet with dinosaurs, that Noah’s flood somehow explains the stratification of the Grand Canyon, etc. etc. has become their political position as well as their scientific assertion and historical understanding.

As their religious-political-scientific-historical worldview is rejected by the majority of people who are less extreme in their beliefs and agendas, the religious right has for more than a decade employed a science-1strategy they openly call “the wedge”. The idea is to demonise and ultimately eliminate Darwinian evolution from the classroom. Their technique is Machiavellian and has been frighteningly successful in The US. Since the US Supreme Court has declared that teaching creationism as science violates the constitutional prohibition of the establishment of a state religion, they propose a modified version they call “intelligent design”. Then they argue that since evolution is merely a theory, alternative theories, ought to be on the curriculum.

Court after court has ruled that IT or intelligent design is nothing more than a tarted up version of creationism, and that it doesn’t come close to meeting the criteria to be called a scientific theory. Nevertheless, its supporters are indefatigable; they just keep on trying. After all, they are on a holy mission. And from their viewpoint, their crusade is blessed by their god because they know the Truth.

This politicisation of the goals of the theocratically inclined right wing is becoming increasingly confrontational with the current presidential contest. Not that Donald Trump is particularly religious; he’s not. Not even a little bit. He believes in Donald J Trump and nothing else. But the religious right is just wild about him. And that dynamic seems to have baffled a few

Why wouldn’t the religious right support Hillary Clinton, a church going, family values candidate whose history shows just how seriously she takes the sanctity of marriage? Why would they gravitate en masse to Trump, who can’t remember a single chapter of their bible, a man who bragged openly about his infidelities and is on his third wife? The short answer is that all that family values rhetoric and posturing, so common in Republican circles, is sheer hypocrisy.

The truth is that what Donald Trump represents to them is a rejection of rational thought, a dismissal of critical thinking, and a strong anti-science and anti-intellectual inclination. He loves the poorly educated, he once enthused. They know that with the dumbing down of America and the rise of a fact-free world order, their utterly fanciful and delusional beliefs about science, history, and even morality will have an atmosphere in which they would thrive. They are excited about the prospect of an America in which their Christian Taliban can wield power. They love things like the law Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate recently enacted in his home state; the law requires a funeral – arranged through a licenced funeral parlour – for all foetuses that are either aborted or miscarried. They know that the implicit rejection of centuries of scientific progress is the sort of fertile ground in which their idiot ideas will flourish.

Other cultures have taken retrograde steps and rejected learning and fact-based thinking. Look at Islam. It was once the centre of science and art and was centuries ahead of the west in the sophistication of its society. Fundamentalism rose, however, and the current barbarity that much of Islam embraces is the direct result of choosing religion over science. It is not unduly fanciful to fear a similar fate for the US in the event of a Trump presidency.



An Atheist’s Dilemma

Religion and genius



My grandfather was a genius. I mean that in the most traditional, unequivocal meaning of the tesmartrm. Just by way of example, he had a bunch of Ph.Ds, all suma cum laude,before he was 25;  even in his 90s, he had never met a brain teaser that teased him for more than a second or two. He was Swiss by birth and he was also Catholic, by which I mean when he was born in the 1800s, he had been baptised and had gone to mass regularly for his entire life. His wife, my grandmother, was of English/Irish/Scots extraction and came from a very religious family; my relatives from her side of the family include, in just one generation, a few nuns, an archbishop (Alex Carter) and a Cardinal (His Eminence, Gerald Emmett Carter). My grandfather’s church attendance was mostly a pro forma affair to maintain tranquility on the domestic front. So thanks to nepotistic connections, I was able to obtain, acquired by my cousin the Cardinal for me, directly from the Pope, what is known as a “plenary indulgence”.

An “indulgence” in Catholicism is sort of a get-out-of-jail-free card; it’s a guarantee that certain sins are forgiven and a piece of your penitential time in purgatory will be lopped off. A “plenary indulgence” is the Rolls Royce of indulgences; it forgives all sins, past or present, and eliminates a purgatorial sojourn entirely. So, I’m good. I never have to worry about putting my bet down on the right side of Pascal’s wager; if it turns out that I’m wrong and Catholic doctrine is cartoon prayerabsolutely correct, I don’t have to worry about hellfire and eternal torture; my sins of heresy and apostasy (along with everything else) are pre-forgiven. An enviable position for an atheist or even an anti-theist like me to be in, I’m sure you’ll agree.

After my grandmother died, my grandfather became considerably more open about his religious views. He was, much like his colleague and contemporary, Albert Einstein, an atheist. As he explained it to me once many years ago when I was in grad school, working on a Master’s in philosophy, he was content that the basic scientific theories were sufficient to allow for satisfactory accounts of things religion is often recruited to explain. He was satisfied that ontology would be covered by the specifics within physics and evolutionary biology; epistemology could be dealt with within the framework of empirical science and the rational investigations of mathematics. People would ask him if it didn’t make sense that, although things got started with the Big Bang, somebody or something had to say “Bang!” And wouldn’t the thing that said, “Bang” be God? He simply quoted Pierre-Simon, marquis de Laplace and said, “I had no need of that hypothesis.”

Although, in the years immediately following the death of my grandmother, he was outspoken on the subject of his newly articulated atheism, after a while he seemed to lose interest in engaging the devout in rational debates; he gave up being a missionary for reason over superstition. Although he still felt, indeed he felt more strongly than ever, that the religion-heavenreligion of his childhood and that of his late wife and most of his family was utterly absurd and, frankly, an insult to any normal person’s intelligence, he also felt that it was wrong to deprive people of a source of comfort and security and give them nothing to replace it. Although Voltaire had said something to the effect that if he rescued someone from a beast that was devouring him, it would be ridiculous to ask him with what he intended to replace the beast, he just couldn’t bring himself to take without giving back.

In my view, that was years of religious indoctrination talking, and talking louder that his rigorous science training. His initial burst of outspoken atheism was more morally correct than his later diffidence; in short, he caved in his later moderation. The fact is that my grandfather was a moralist; he was a militarist, but he was also an uncompromising pacifist who sided with us, the hippies, during the 60s anti-war protest years. He cared for all living things and actually walked the talk; he bought up all the offal he could gather from his butcher and fed the neighbourhood stray cats; he even treated their skin conditions with some concoction he brewed himself. When he didn’t think he was being watched, I have seen him catch a mosquito and shoo it away rather than swat it. And it was that human decency, his profound compassion that initially fueled his vocal atheism.

As a man of intimidating intelligence, and as a human being of morality and kindness, he saw the unmitigated evil that is represented by religion, particularly theistic religions and most specifically, the three big Abrahamic cults. He saw them for what they are and he rejected their tenets as inhuman and deeply cruel. Most of all, he rejected the fundamental house on religionpurpose of religion\; to divide people into the elect and the damned. He saw that as soon as one cleaves to a particular iteration of a theistic creed, one has counted oneself as being among the special few and better than and separate from the rest. Religion is the great divider of humanity into them and us. As a devout pacifist, those divisions were repugnant to him.

In his last years, as he mellowed, he retreated from his overt condemnation of religions; not because he came to accept their pretenses of validity, but because he had come to abhor any form of conflict and confrontation. He would smile and nod when he was lectured by a Witness of Jehovah who thought she had spotted an old, vulnerable, weak-minded widower as an ideal mark. She couldn’t have been more wrong, but he permitted her to babble on in her fallacy-laden arguments for her absurd cult’s dogma. He could have argued circles around her and, by virtue of his superior knowledge of her bible and deeper understanding of her doctrine, he may even have persuaded her of the inherent wrongness of her religious views. He thought that would have been wrong, since she was genuinely trying to save his immortal soul; showing her the errors of her beliefs and thinking would have accomplished little except leaving her bereft of comfort and possibly shunned by her family and congregation.

I disagree. Had I been him, I think I would have taken the bait and opened up the discussion. I would have considered it a victory for the forces of good in the world to have rescued that woman from her imprisonment; for that is what dogmatic religion is. I believe that my grandfather abdicated his responsibility as a rational and compassionate man militantto save others from pernicious doctrine. I believe that the doctrine that he could have argued against is the most destructive and repugnant force in the entire history of the world. I believe that the toxicity of religion has poisoned humanity for thousands of years, and that if religion was treated like any other crackpot notion; given no respect in society, treated with dismissive contempt, and not permitted to influence the public sphere, the world would be an immeasurably better place. The energy and brain power that would be freed up to seek actual real solutions to social problems would have an incredible positive impact on mankind.

My grandfather, though, was too kind to continue to confront those who tried to sell him their snake oil. Out of compassion, he allowed them to enjoy the comfort of their chains; he pitied them, but he didn’t have the confrontational nature needed to fight back against the worst evil at work in the world today



Not All Ideas are Created Equal

There are none so blind


(VANCOUVER ISLAND) A question that outspoken atheists are often asked is why MYOBwe are so concerned with religious matters: if we don’t believe in god, all well and good, but why engage in constant criticism of the belief systems of others? And frankly, that’s a reasonable question. I can’t, of course, speak for every vocal non-believer, but I would have to say that a large part of the answer is that it offends me to have absurdity thrust upon me and to be treated as though I am an aberration if I fail to join in lockstep with those who make ludicrous claims. Moreover, to have those nonsensical propositions treated as though they are the norm and self-evident statements of fact is particularly galling to anyone with the slightest experience in critical thinking. But when laws are being written that seek to enforce magical thinking on the people as a whole, that’s when all good men have to come to the aid of the party and voice their objections.

As we watch the United States try to pretend that what is masquerading as the run-up to a general election, some of us will occasionally take our eyes off the centre ring for a moment to take in a sideshow. The sideshow that is drawing a lot of attention in this election cycle is the religious right and its decision to choose this moment in history to push the legislative envelope on the state level and to enact a series of draconian and ridiculous discriminatory laws that are justified by their proponents’ Christian belief system.

Some Christians are upset because groups like the FFRF (Freedom From Religion Foundation) are religious penisconstantly filing lawsuits in US courts over things like civic monuments depicting the biblical 10 Commandments or teachers leading prayers in public schools. How can any of those things harm us? What possible objection could reasonable people have? And why are we Christians being persecuted? The simple answers are these: 1) By tacitly suggesting that a list of rules of behaviour written by and for some nomadic, late stone age, Middle Eastern goat herders is relevant to our lives today & 2) Those rules are not acknowledged as valid by a significant portion of the population and many reject them outright as just, well, stupid & 3) Oh, please!

christians & lions

There actually was persecution at one time.

But it’s that last one that seems to have become part of the coordinated effort to reverse centuries of progress in the sciences and to undo the separation of church and state that was so central to the intent of the founding fathers of the United States. For everyone out there who had missed it, according to televangelists and some state governors, we are in a period of time where the persecution of Christians has returned with a malevolence not seen since the time of Nero and this time it’s taking place in the USA. And just look at the form that persecution takes!

According to some of the persecuted, not being allowed to require non-Christians to repeat Christian prayers publicly is discriminatory against Christians and therefore amounts to persecution. Persecution of poor, beleaguered Christians also includes their not being permitted to discriminate against groups of their choosing (they seem to like to choose members of the LGBT community but also choose atheists and agnostics and other groups as welLGBT persecutionl), since they have fervent religious beliefs that requires them to discriminate. That too, is apparently persecution.

These ludicrous claims actually manage to gain some traction, particularly in the southern states, perhaps because those legislatures can pull out and dust off a few of their old Jim Crow laws and rewrite them, substituting the word “gay” wherever it used to say ‘Negro”. However they come up with these genuinely discriminatory anti-discrimination bills, their philosophical justifications virtually always come down to some cherry-picked biblical injunction. |Oh, they’ll argue that these laws are urgently needed to protect children from perverts or some such nonsense, but when it’s pointed out that theirs is a solution without a problem, and when pressed even a little bit for some honest explanation, they’ll come back with a biblical quote.

And while this is going on some truly bizarre efforts are being made to persuade the persuadable that profoundly stupid notions need to be promulgated. Enter Ken Ham. Ham is young earth creationist and biblical literalist. While those credentials sound serious, the content of his claims is anything but. He preaches that the Earth is about 6000 years old and that it was created in 6 twenty-four hour days; he tells us that every word of the bible, New Testament and Old, is literally, factually true. To that end he built and operates “The Creation Museum” in Petersburg, Kentucky and founded “Answers in Genesis”, a Christian ministry that denies evolution and claims that all the science we need is contained right there in the first book of the Old Testament. Set to open on July 7 of this year is his latest exhibition at he museum: a life size replica of Noah’s Ark. Apparently it will be able to contain representative breeding pairs of every one of the 7 million plus species alive today as well as all the identified prehistoric species including dinosaurs – which Ham claims once co-existed with man on planet Earth just a few thousand years ago.Fred & Bill debate

That the foregoing is simply harmless eccentricity on the part of a man and a few isolated nutjobs is what we ought to expect; unfortunately, it is far, far more than that. You see, the museum itself is largely government subsidised and the construction of the 14-million-dollar Ark was completed with state and federal grants as “educational” endeavours. And to add insult to injury, Ham and his AiG are allowed to discriminate in their hiring practices. Applicants to work in the museum or its associated parking lot and gift shops must sign a form asserting that they believe in the young earth proposition and that they renounce any belief in evolution; atheists or anyone other than Ham’s brand of Christian need not apply.

What seems not to occur to those members of the cult of Christianity is that atheism, not evangelical or any kind of Christianity, is the default position. The evidence for that is simple; Christians require bible studies, Sunday school, worship services, and Ken Ham’s teachings to churn out cult members, atheists need none of that. Just leave people alone and they won’t become Christian; if they are given any real education at all they’ll become atheists.

So the question of why atheists are so preoccupied with religion is answered by the observation that religion seems to be preoccupied with replacing science with fantasy, empiricism with doctrine, observation with “revelation”. We don’t want our legislatures relying on their individual members’ “faiths” to make laws for all of us. We don’t want our children taught in schools that the outrageous and the ignorant are true and science is all wrong; hell, we don’t even want them to be taught that fairy tales and science are alternatives to be chosen between as equally likely to be true.

Make it so

Are atheists obsessed with religion? Perhaps. Obsessed to precisely the same degree that theists are obsessed with imposing their ridiculous and untestable assertions on those who don’t follow their brand of devotion.


Just When We Thought is Was Safe To Go To The Bathroom…

And the beat goes on….


(VANCOUVER ISLAND)    Just a few years ago Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Penn Jillette, and other lesser known devout atheists (myself included) were merrily publishing scientific, philosophical, political, and sociological writings on the subject of our belief systems, or lack thereof, and gamely challenging the religious right on all those fronts. It seemed as though the religious were soon going to be required to keep their magisterium from overlapping[1] onto fields of inquiry or politics or legality that are, frankly, not within their purview. All indications were that the secular was Richard-Dawkins-Quote-Frank-Schaefferbecoming well and truly separated from the spiritual and a kind of sanity was – at last – taking hold.

It seems we relaxed too soon. After that brief hiccup, the god botherers came roaring back, literally with a vengeance. And now the more radical (the real nutjobs) are showing their true colours in increasingly ludicrous ways. Clearly the most violent and currently threatening of the religious fanatics are the radicalised Muslim contingent as represented by ISIS and its zealots. However, all of the above mentioned Western writers never had any serious influence on those terrorists; the terrorists and potential terrorists who embrace a twisted and radical Islam don’t discriminate in their world view between Richard Dawkins and Pat

Pat Robertson

Pat Robertson

Robertson…both are infidels and that’s that.

No, the conflict of words and ideas which I am addressing today is the one between the Western secular viewpoint and that of the radical Christian right. The battle that is being fought on that front, particularly in the US, is between those who believe in a firm separation of church and state and those who hold that religion, at least their version of Christianity, must be imposed on what they claim is a Christian nation.atheist_billboard-e1292447272842-1

The ploy that the Christian right seems to have settled on is to assume the role of victim and to demand protection from those who would persecute them. They use anti-discrimination legislation and inclination to turn facts on their head and to justify their own particular brand of persecution and discrimination. In their reversal of the meaning of words they seem to have closely studied George Orwell.

Examples of this abound. Now that same-sex marriage has been supported by the Supreme Court and declared the law in many states, Christians are claiming that they are being discriminated against. While rational people shake their heads in confusion, the fanatics explain: apparently if gays or lesbians marry, this somehow diminishes the value of their own marriages, and that is persecution. An example of how they react in good Christian fashion would be the county clerks who refuse to issue a marriage certificate to a gay couple in a state where gay marriage is specifically permitted. You see, those clerks have a strong religious aversion to doing that part of their job, so if they refuse to do it and are sanctioned, that would be religious persecution. Seriously.

Another mini-trend that keeps popping up is that of Christian florists and bakers refusing to serve gay couples who ask for their services at their weddings. The refusal is done out of religious conviction, you see, so it’s not discriminatory. In fact, it would be discriminatory, they claim, to force them to obey the anti-discrimination laws that make their discrimination against gays illegal. If you can follow that, congratulations.

phelps-funnyxBut the one bit of idiocy that is now actually causing everyone the most bother is the issue of which bathroom a transgender person is to be permitted to use. Believe it or not this has already moved from an individual retailer’s policy, to the municipal council, to the state legislature, and right up to the federal department of justice. That’s how important it is for some Christians to be permitted to discriminate.

The State of North Carolina has passed a law overriding anti-discrimination municipal laws. According to North Carolina’s Republican legislature and Republican governor, Pat McCrory, the state has the right and the jurisdiction to defy federal human and civil rights laws by passing legislation that requires everyone to use the washroom that corresponds to the sex that appears on their birth certificate. Moreover, it also denies any city in the state the right to pass anti-discrimination legislation. That would be discriminatory, apparently. At this writing, the federal government is telling North Carolina to get back on the reservation and North Carolina’s governor has promised to defy the feds.

Meanwhile, Target, the retailer that some claim started the whole melee by its progressive bathroom policy (use whichever loo corresponds to your sexual identity) is harassed daily by religious fanatics who come into the stores and harangue customers with fire and brimstone and threats of hellfire and damnation if they don’t get onboard with their loony demand that they retain their god-given right to discriminate.

This pissing contest has never been sublime but it sure has descended to the ridiculous. The religion that claims to be one of love and peace is often violently pursuing an agenda of bigotry, intolerance and persecution, all the while claiming that they are the injured party. The very groups that include the constitution in their daily prayers seem determined to cherry-pick the bits they like, reinterpret other bits, and when they don’t get their way, reject the bits they don’t like. Just like they do with the bible. They love the 2nd Amendment, but they either hate or utterly reinterpret the 1st. Imagine how desperately confused they must be about what’s actually written in their bible.Coulter

The bible, despite its thumpers’ claims is utterly useless as a source of moral or ethical guidance. It is a collection of folk tales written originally for the edification of nomadic Middle Eastern Early Bronze Age goatherders; its relevance is non-existent. The stories are wildly self-contradictory, not just between the Old Testament and the New, within each book. Nevertheless, this Rorschach test of one’s predispositions is what is claimed to be the life guide for the nutjobs, and worst of all, they intend for it to be yours and mine as well. They will not rest until they put a Ted Cruz type in the White House.

It is time for the rational among us to take to the ramparts and make a noise when this lunacy is being thrust into the secular sphere. This is not a minor issue, it’s very real and very dangerous; just look at some of the nasty absurdity that has been unleashed in the name of religion.


[1] From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) is the view advocated by Stephen Jay Gould that science and religion each represent different areas of inquiry, fact vs. values, so there is a difference between the “nets” [1] over which they have “a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority,” and the two domains do not overlap…


More musings

Utterly pointless thoughts

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – The previous post’s brief mention, at the end of the piece, of the notion of infinity, led me to think about the concept and the notion of time itself. Therefore, what follows is some pretty amateur speculation on the subject and if you’re an expert, or it doesn’t interest you, or you have your own firm grasp on the subject, please stop here. Go to the previous post, perhaps. It’s interesting, plus if you look for it, you’ll find a picture of my dick. In context, of course, and not just for gratuitous exhibitionism.infinity

Infinity, or if you are of a religious bent; eternity. If you’ve ever been subjected to a Catholic education you have probably been exposed to most of the metaphors. The metaphors are intended, of course, for children and do nothing at all to convey the idea of actual infinity to our finite minds; they just instil a sense of a very, very long time. You know the kind of thing I’m talking about; if a tiny bird flies by a mountain every hundred years and brushes a wing against it, by the time the mountain has been worn completely away, infinity is just getting started. Of course these metaphors are generally employed to convey a sense of how long you will undergo the tortures of hell if you succumb to the urge to touch your own genitals; I don’t think I’ve ever heard them used to describe the eternal bliss of heaven.

But maybe we’re not talking about an infinite time, an eternity. The universe had a beginning…the Big Bang…and is still expanding from that. Moreover the general scientific consensus is that as the universe reaches a point of maximum expansion, it will reverse itself and start to shrink again, resulting in what they like to call the Big Crunch. Presumably that will be the end of time. Who knows? (If so, those poor bastards who traded their lives and others’ for an eternity of lounging about with a flagon of wine and an indefinite number of nubile virgins will either be pretty pissed off at being short-changed, or, more likely, mightily relieved at having come to an end of the monotony).

Of course the obvious answer to the Big Crunch signifying the end of time would be that since conditions are now the same as those that prevailed at the Big Bang, the cycle would repeat itself. There you go. Infinity. At least infinite time or eternity.

Now the physical universe is in constant flux; there is always movement, with atoms and molecules bouncing around and chemical reactions occurring constantly. Infinity, therefore, as I mentioned in the last essay, can then be defined as that period of time in which anything that can happen does happen. In fact, it will happen an infinite number of times. And since infinity, by definition, has no beginning or end, everything possible has happened an infinite number of times, and will again.

MangoesThat means that there has been a previous existence that was exactly like this one, except that in a market in Shanghai, there was a mango with a slightly larger brown spot on the tail end. There has occurred another universe in which you were reading this post on a computer screen but the walls of the room you were in were slightly paler. One universe was identical in every particular except for a single grain of sand on a beach in Madagascar having a slightly different orientation to all the other grains of sand. You get the idea.

But just as those infinitesimally small differences actually form an entirely different universe, other manifestations throughout infinity of the universe would necessarily involve much larger differences. In some versions, our galaxy would never have coalesced, the earth wouldn’t have formed and life would never have evolved. In yet another, Earth would have formed, but the meteor or meteors that spelled the extinction of the dinosaurs would have missed, and they continued to thrive, perhaps evolving intelligence and populating the planet with a race of intelligent reptiles, a sort of Rupert Murdoch Planet. Any configuration rupertor possibility that is within the laws of physical possibility would have occurred and will occur again, an infinite number of times.

Einstein-But one thing we have learned about time is that it is not linear in the sense that we experience it. That was demonstrated by Einstein when he proposed the relativity of time. This suggests that there is every possibility that the different universes are not sequential, but rather, parallel. This is a little more satisfying because, with an infinite number of sequential universes, it would seem to make sense that in at least one of them there would exist a me who remembers all of his other existences. I don’t. If they run parallel, it’s easier to accept that I don’t remember something contemporaneous in another, presumably inaccessible universe.

Once one starts to put any kind of thought into this kind of cosmology and then expand one’s thinking to include the infinite or bounded nature of space, and then, further, recognises that making that kind of distinction is fatuous and inaccurate to begin with, since space and time are different aspects of the same thing: spacetime, it becomes increasingly clear why human beings have created gods and mythologies to explain the inexplicable.

How much easier it is to postulate a super-being at the pleasure of whom the entire system runs and which can be shut off in a moment of caprice. How much easier it is to justify morality, if one also postulates that the super-being also created and imposed a code of explicit morals – inconsistent, self-contradictory, unethical, silly, irrelevant, misogynist, racist, pointless, xenophobic – but nevertheless inflexible.

angrybirdThere is obviously a great deal more to speculate upon once this can of worms has been opened, and I will if the feedback I receive suggests that my readers are interested. For now, however, JJ (my four-year-old) wants me to play Angry Birds with him. And, as I like smashing stuff by hurling birds as much as the next guy, I’m going. Besides…it’s become clear to me that I have a very limited time with my son and I do NOT intend to waste any of it!


The prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully. (Samuel Johnson).


Content Warning

VANCOUVER ISLAND CANADA – All the indications are that my cancer surgery wasn’t successful. In the first place, there was more of it: the tumour wasn’t confined to the prostate itself; the seminal vesicles which (used to) be behind it were cancerous as well, as was some of the surrounding tissue. My doctor, who is young –almost Doogie Howser young – except VERY highly thought of and extremely good, and far better looking, did what he could. He took everything out that might be compromised or even at threat.

In a perfect world that would have resulted in my next PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) blood test showing a value of zero as there ought to be nothing the produce that particular antigen.thinker

Three months after the surgery (and 2 months after the sacred day of my catheter removal) such, unfortunately was not to be to the case. My blood test showed a PSA level of .15 Two days later it was at .16. Worrisome, but .2 is considered a definitive diagnosis of recurrence.

One month later my PSA tested out at .31

Cancer. Or as the sanitary language of medical euphemisms would have it….BCR. Biochemical Recurrence.

So if I’m going to have any chance of living long enough to see my wife graduate from culinary school (where she is at the top of her class) or my four year-old graduate from elementary school, I’ve got to figure out some way that I can undergo a minimum of six weeks of radiotherapy in another city. And then survive the chemotherapy I might have to do for the rest of my earthly days. Thank goodness for the focus that immanent death brings or the logistics would be impossible to manage.

But as the logistics of treatment have to be among the least interesting subjects I could imagine…this post will be more of a meditation on life and death.

It probably doesn’t mean very much to most people, but the very fact that you were even born is probably the most astonishing coincidence you are even capable of imagining. Here’s what I mean.

Your dadLet’s face it. Your Dad whacked off. If he’s around to own up to it, he might even admit that he did it a lot. But the fact that your father was around to whack off during the last few decades of all the decades of human occupation of this planet by beings with the human genome is flat out amazing. Now his whacking off isn’t amazing; it’s anything but. But think for a moment how many spermatozoa that particular male in that particular generation wasted; on his palm, the ceiling, sheets, socks, watermelons, or beloved pets. Trillions would Human_semen_in_handsbe a conservative estimate. YOU could have been any one of those. But you weren’t…you were the lucky one. And it gets even more unlikely that you won the sweepstakes. Somehow he met your mother…the possessor of the rest of the genetic material that will ultimately define you.

Then came all the social miracles that led to them having sex in a manner that permitted conception; whether it was rape, consensual, a prophylactic failure or anything beyond wishful thinking, somehow millions and millions of spermatozoa found themselves in your mother’s vagina heading for that month’s egg in a greatly expanded but microscopic scene from It’s a Mad. itsamadworld-completeMad, Mad, Mad World. And one of those obsessed fortune hunters, Phil Silvers or Mickey Rooney perhaps; maybe Buddy Hackett, got there first and breached the citadel, slamming the door after him.

And then came nine months of sheer luck. Most pregnancies are not even noticed and end spontaneously, many are aborted or end in miscarriage; yours was one of the unimaginably unlikely few that ended in a birth. You defied all the odds and made it to that wretched state we call “life”.

Like ‘em or loath ‘em, you’ve got to look in awe at your fellow humans (and yourself) with something akin to awe just for being here. They can be stupid, venal, brutal, tiresome, or mohandas_gandhivicsecretthey can be Albert Schweitzer rolled up in Ghandi and Einstein with the sexual appeal of a collage of Victoria Secret models crossbred with Rita Hayworth, and their individual characteristics would be only microscopically more amazing than the simple fact of their sheer existence. That’s life.

And then there’s death.


That, we don’t know shit about; except that in a few unsubstantiated cases, once the threshold’s been crossed, there ain’t no comin’ back. Hamlet was wrong in the first part of his big soliloquy: “To be or not to be?” Really short term thinking, for the Great Dane. NOT to be is where we’ll all end up. He had it right, though, when later he referred to “The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn no traveller returns”. And we are all travellers with a one way ticket to that bourn.

twain censorship


Mark Twain occasionally spoke of death. (There was very little he didn’t occasionally speak of. More than writing, that’s what he did for a living.) Although his correction of mistaken news reports of his death (actually, it was his brother who was very ill, but alive in London at the time) he is often misquoted. What he actually wrote: ‘The report of my death was an exaggeration’ was every bit as witty. He was somewhat more philosophical but no less witty when he also said “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

Twain was making an implicitly atheistic observation. The one quip dismissed the nonsense of the promised Christian afterlife, either the glory and eternal boredom of sitting at the right hand of god, the greatest underachiever and mass murderer the universe has ever spawned, or the sick theories concerning the conditions of eternal damnation. And speaking as one who can’t lower (despite years of trying) his intellectual standards to accept one jot, let alone a tittle, of the religious dogma force-fed to him by a succession of nuns, priests, and other bullies, anything resembling an afterlife holds no fear whatsoever…for much the same reason as expressed by Mark Twain.

That, of course says nothing about the other religions and their versions of the afterlife; but that means nothing either. Not one of their “theories” has the slightest evidence to support its contentions and there is no reason whatsoever for accepting their bald statements as anything more than delusion and wishful thinking. No, the truth is, the truth has to be that death is exactly like the other billions upon billions of years we spent NOT being alive. Oblivion. Nada. Niente. Rien. Kosong. And that is not to be feared.

For me, death, especially if it comes soon, is to be regretted. I have a four your old boy I love to distraction, and oblivion will rob me of the opportunity to see him grow; to graduate from school; to have his first girl or boyfriend; to marry and have a family and be successful. Moreover it will rob him of a father; a father’s support and guidance and love. I won’t be aware of this while its happening, of course, but as I shuffle off this mortal coil, you can be sure that it is those thoughts that will be the source of any tears I shed.

But before I leave this meditation having definitively concluded that oblivion, blessed nothingness, is the inevitable end of life, I should point out where my doubts lie. I have had a classic “near death experience”.

On a canoe trip, when I was about fourteen years old, I was turned over and caught in some rather treacherous rapids. Being a strong swimmer, I was at no time afraid. I even recall enjoying the underwater ride, looking through the surface and at the dim and filtered sunlight above as I followed the river at breakneck speed. Eventually I felt myself in need of a breath and calmly turned and swam steadily toward the surface. A little surprised, but not frightened to find that my efforts to climb to the surface produced absolutely no upward progression, I redoubled my efforts. Still nothing. I recall making one effort after another and continuing to find myself pulled inexorably downstream, several feet below the river’s surface. Oddly, I felt no fear at any time. Nevertheless, there came a definitive moment. I realised all at once that I was not going to survive. I knew, I knew with certainty that reaching the surface and life was no longer possible. With a more profound conviction than normal life is capable of providing, I knew and accepted that my life as I knew it was over. And I was right.

It was at the moment of acceptance of what appeared to be inevitable, that life as I knew it ended and I began my short-lived journey into another realm. I experienced all the characteristics of a near death experience; I left my body and could see my former shell sweeping downstream, I began to dissociate from common reality; I felt my second or astral body hurtling upwards; I saw the intense light and was just about to enter it. But this is the important aspect: it was the most joyful, peaceful, total happiness I can even imagine. The bliss included an absolute sense of certainty and anticipation of what was to come and that what was to come was good, positive beyond any possibility of description. Thus when my (physical) feet hit a rock and I stood up and inhaled earth’s atmosphere my first reaction was: “SHIT!” For several moments I experienced a wrenching, profound sense of unbearable loss. Friends tell me they held me up but had the sense that I was actually trying to dive back into the river. Then the fear hit. I realised how close I had come to dying and suffered the usual shock; in a few hours I was back to normal. But that other realm never left me…it’s still there and it’s always with me.light

I have experienced that precise sense of otherworldliness, certainty, joy, and anticipation at other times at a somewhat more diluted level; this has almost always been under the influence of hallucinogens. Part of me insists that there’s something to this, and that there is a realm beyond this one, and that realm is characterised by spiritual beauty and joy.


That is anecdotal evidence. Others have experienced it and described it similarly. Still anecdotal. I have unquestionably experienced it and I can testify to it. Still anecdotal.

So let me leave this meditation at this….I will die. So will you. But I see my inevitable death as a rest, a dreamless sleep in which nothing happens. It is not specifically a good thing unless it relieves suffering. But it cannot be described as bad for the person who is dead.

On the other hand, there is the off chance that the anecdotal evidence is accurate (and I lean toward my anecdotal experience rather than that of others, only because I trust my memory of the experience more than other’s memories and then their descriptions). In which case: JACKPOT! Off chance, but who knows? Either way….no harm.

But before I go, let me offer the following: If there is such a thing as infinity, and we can expect to confront infinity when we die, let us remember that a working definition of infinity is “that amount of time during which everything that can possibly happen will happen”.

That means that in what will seem like the blink of an eye, you will be born as Casanova, Cleopatra, Marilyn Monroe, or Mick Jagger. It’s just a question of a near infinite number of atoms randomly achieving that configuration. And in an infinite span of time that’s inevitably going to happen. With my luck I’ll be born as Stuart Sutcliffe.


Evangelism, not debate: my mistake

house on religionReligious debate

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – Having recently been involved in a number of debates and having given several seminars on the topic of critical thinking – debates and seminars which inevitably drifted toward religious questions – I am now beginning to rethink some of my previously held positions. Oh, don’t worry, I haven’t been persuaded of the existence of an imaginary superfriend or anything like that; I heard nothing new, persuasive, or even any arguments worth much more than a few moment’s consideration. It’s just that I am rethinking my views with respect to those who actually find the arguments or exhortations for the existence of a particular god to be persuasive.

I have always approached discussions of religion (or virtually anything else, for that matter) from the perspective that the subject is only worth discussing if both sides are open to the possibility of being persuaded by the reasoning or rhetoric of the other. I don’t mean that neither side ought to have firm views or strongly held positions; on the contrary, such logic 4discussions are only interesting if people are motivated to provide a robust defense of their views and to advance their position vigorously. That, however, is not the same as knowing beyond any possibility of error that one is one hundred percent right and there doesn’t even exist the slightest possibility of being mistaken. That degree of certainty is reserved for the religious and for giving first year lectures to classes of a hundred or more students. But to engage in open discussion with that mindset is intellectual fraud, unless it’s disclosed at the outset.

logic 1

What if our religious leaders told the truth?

Intellectual fraud is a salient characteristic of virtually all discussions with the religiously inclined. The very fact that the unpersuadable are willing, even anxious to engage in discussions of the validity of their beliefs is hypocritical to begin with. Lecture us on their beliefs? Sure. If they can find an audience outside of the captive one in front of the pulpit. But to engage in a pretend-rational exchange of ideas, when they take pride in not being capable of accepting a differing view? That is clearly dishonest.

Examples of that sort of dishonesty are legion in what passes for religious discussion today. Take the question of scientific proof for any of the assertions commonly made by theists. The devout leap on any report of a new observation that questions previously accepted scientific consensus. “See?” they gleefully cry. “Proof that science doesn’t know what it’s talking about!” This display of a clear misunderstanding of science and the scientific epistemology is not necessarily dishonest; it may be merely ignorant. What is certainly dishonest is when they leap with equal enthusiasm on any scientific observation that they can interpret as supporting in any way some fragment of their doctrine.

Remember the Shroud of Turin debates from a decade and more ago? For true believers in the logic 3authenticity of the shroud as the burial cloth of the biblical Jesus, the reports that pollen from plants indigenous to the eastern Mediterranean ca. 2000 years ago were seized upon and trumpeted as validation of that which they already believed. But when Carbon 14 tests were permitted by the Vatican and they demonstrated that the organic material in the shroud was alive at some time in the early Renaissance, suddenly science was not to be trusted and science was once again an inappropriate tool to use to investigate religious claims.

Another example of the characteristic dishonesty of religious apologists is seen in the linguistic sophistry commonly employed. This isn`t just ignorance either; this is dishonesty. Take the deliberate misuse of the word “theory” as one of the most pervasive and deceptive techniques used by the devout. That is especially evident in discussions of their pet peeve, the scientific theory of evolution. Evolution, they say, being only a theory, should be taught alongside other theories like creationism or its uptown cousin, “intelligent design”.

This is the logical fallacy of false equivalence. The truth (if the devout were to be interested in truth as opposed to “Truth”) is that evolution is a scientific theory because it meets the criteria required to describe it as such; the notion of creationism doesn’t.

Evolution is experimentally verifiable. It is logically possible to disprove it. It has survived science-religioncountless challenges. It is consistent with laws of science as currently understood. It rises to the level of theory. It is a theory like gravity is. Not one of those things can be said of creationism. It is not a theory under any scientific definition of the term. There is no equivalence despite the vocal assertions of science deniers. And that fact exposes yet another layer of the deceit that is at the centre of religious apologetics: theists like to employ scientific “proofs” and scientific language, and claim that their unfounded assertions are “scientific”, while in the next breath they are perfectly willing to dismiss science itself as man-made and profane.

But while we can resent the duplicity and hypocrisy of the argumentation employed by the devout, we ought not be surprised.

logic 2


They are not discussing anything with any intent of expanding our understanding, or of considering other possibilities; they know, you see. They are not the slightest bit interested in analysing your points, in thinking about your reservations, in considering your views. They are interested in repeating their beliefs in various different words and persuading you to accept them, or at least to persuade you stop expressing your own views. They are there to evangelise, not to seek understanding or to grow intellectually. When you are right, and any contradictory view is not only wrong but inspired by Satan, then any kind of intellectual dishonesty is justified.

So, as the devout gird themselves to do intellectual battle with atheists, they are not preparing for an intellectual discussion; they are only preparing to lie, cheat, mislead, and obfuscate. It is their duty, you see. They are right, so whatever it takes to get their point across is valid. Logic doesn’t matter. Reason is irrelevant. Truth doesn’t count. Because they have Truth.


Reality Games

Peeking behind the doors



The Doors of Perception

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – Over the years I’ve developed a hypothesis that suggests that when a complex question is asked and when, despite its constant analysis, its intense investigation, and its constant consideration by intelligent people, no real answer presents itself…the question itself is probably what’s at fault.

Douglas Adams hilariously made a similar point when he had the greatest computer ever developed in the universe analyse, compute,  and come up with the ultimate answer to the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. You know…the big one…the meaning of life. The computer’s answer after millennia of analysis was obvious. Forty two. You see, the question had not been formed in such a way as to elicit a coherent answer. Once the question was clear, the answer would be forthcoming in comparably short order. (Of course, Bob Dylan had already reasonably formulated the question years earlier: How many roads must a man walk down? But that’s another story).

One of the most baffling and contentious issues with which one, in his or her more philosophical and internally analytic moments, must grapple is the question of perception and consciousness. This struggle raises other important and ancillary issues, including their persistence, genesis, and value. Assuming that Socrates’ observation was correct (usually a safe assumption) that an unexamined life isn’t worth living, it’s perhaps worth it to take time occasionally to examine those issues. It’s worth looking at just what we mean when we blithely toss out words like consciousness, perception, personality, or self.

We all live in our own box that keeps our “selves” isolated from other similar selves. We can do some rudimentary communication…we are able to send and receive simple, although not particularly clear or articulate, messages from one box to another; sometimes they are even vaguely understood and even replied to. We congratulate ourselves on this and call it communication; some of us even make a living trying to do that with increasing degrees of clarity and understanding. As “communicators” we delude ourselves into believing that there exists a real possibility of sharing the deepest and most complex and profound thoughts that occur within one of those isolated cranial boxes. Our understanding of others, or our explanation of ourselves to others, is a pale shadow, analogous to Plato’s Analogy of the Cave, of the depth and complexity of the actual thought processes that we are attempting to communicate.

The key is that inside each of those boxes dwells something that we describe as a personality or a self. But more significantly, each one of us in our little box is under the impression that we have a fairly clear understanding of the world our physical beings – our boxes – inhabit. We know what we see and hear. As human beings, that makes up the bulk of our understanding of the physical makeup of the world. We also smell, touch, and taste; these senses combine with our primary ones of sight and hearing to create what we take to be a relatively accurate representation of the universe, or at least our section of it.


This much we know. Much of what comes we also know. But much is the beginning of speculation on the subject of individuality, personality, self, perception, and consciousness. I expect this introspection as well as a degree of extrospection to last a lifetime. So I will start at this point and ask some questions having to do with our understanding of the physical makeup of the universe, as understood through the senses upon which we rely for our understanding of the physical realm we inhabit. 

We know, for example, that although we instinctively feel that our eyesight gives us a realistic picture of that which is before our eyes, we actually only see within a limited range of light frequencies known as the visible spectrum. Other frequencies that are simply beyond the abilities of our evolved light detection organs, our eyes, to perceive, range as far as low level infrared (perceivable as heat), beyond high frequency radio waves, imperceptible to our eyes. We are only sensually aware of a small percentage of the information that surrounds us and describes the world in ways to which we are entirely oblivious. 

Aldous Huxley described the mind in its everyday state as acting as a “reducing valve”; among its primary functions is to diminish and restrict the volume of information and detail of the world our brains would have to analyse from moment to moment. We have evolved to require a miniscule portion of all the information that is out there in the physical universe; evolution’s function is to ensure the propagation of any given gene and, by extension, the species to which that gene belongs. The result is that much of the functionality of our brains, and their emergent entities, our minds, are presented for analysis and consideration only with that data which is necessary for survival and competition with others of our species. In fact, even our limited senses provide our brains with many times more information than is necessary for those evolutionary purposes; Huxley’s reducing valve works hard to prevent information beyond that which is necessary for life from reaching any cognitive part of our brain and therefore, in our daily lives, cannot really be said to be present in our minds.

To put it succinctly, as Shakespeare did in Hamlet….

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

What we grasp is the merest tip of the iceberg of the reality we inhabit. In fact, what we take to be reality is merely an analogue….the way our brain arranges what it takes in so that it can be dealt with.



So when we ask “What is the nature of reality?” “What is the meaning of life?” or “Is there an afterlife?” it appears that we are basing the questions on far, far too little experience of the phenomena of which we desire information.

The second question, the one regarding the meaning of life is, I’m afraid meaningless….just as Douglas Adams satirically pointed out. For linguistic philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, the question would be no more than gibberish. The nature of reality is an area we are constantly studying and developing mathematical models to answer. Whether the universe is constituted in such a way as to be amenable to a mathematical description is very doubtful, but we expand our understanding incrementally each time a new and successful model is developed.

But the third question, the question of an afterlife is already pretty well answered. Time is our way of ordering our view of the universe (space/time) as Einstein postulated. Most theoretical physicists agree that the notion of linear time – birth, life, death – is illusory. That time doesn’t flow or pass. Time is the universe of space time occupies the eternal “now” just as space and all that it contains is the eternal “all”.

This concept is where science meets mysticism, but it is interesting to note that most mystic traditions from that of the Hopi Indians to Zen Buddhism express this notion in a variety of ways. It can never be explained in clear human language; language requires a linear view of time to be meaningful; nevertheless mystics, ascetics, serious experimenters with hallucinogens and theoretical physicists have all glimpsed the ineffable unity of space and time. It cannot be expressed in any human language (hence the apparent riddles that typify Zen philosophy), but it can be glimpsed through different means. Rational logic in the form of mathematics can give an academic stance from which to experience the eternal “now” theoretically. Changes in brain chemistry as the result of asceticism, meditation or the short cut of hallucinogenic substances can give a sense of the grandeur, the wonder and the utter indescribable difference of the deeper eternal reality that underlies our everyday sense of the world.

I am going to have two bouts of surgery within the next month or two. One, I have dealt with frequently in the past; shoulder work. This time they are going to replace my much travelled left shoulder join with a custom built model that should outlast the planet. The second is a little dodgier. It’s going to be an attempt to remove a cancerous tumour. That one could kill me on the table, it could prove ineffective, leaving me to shuffle off this mortal coil when I get up, or it could be entirely successful in catching every cancerous little cell in the vicinity.

In any case, I have chosen to examine my understanding of the unity of space/time and the eternal “now” through whatever is the most effective means for me. I (as those of you who know me are aware, am no ascetic. I hate to eat dinner without a martini…starvation and self-flagellation ain’t my style). Mathematics? I can barely calculate a 15% tip, so I give 20%.

No, It’s going to be hallucinogens. I have a doctor who will accompany me during any high-dose expeditions I take and be on hand with a jolt of Thorazine should it be needed. A cold beer other wise. All I need to do is nail down a supply of trustworthy and stable LSD 25 and start the explorations.

Should this work out as I expect it might, I have a written will that will include that at the point where I will not recover and that dying is inevitable, I am to be injected with 1000 micrograms of LSD and after an hour, life support is to be terminated. I believe that I will enter the eternal“now” having been prepared for the transition and will, in fact, have some experience with it beforehand.

Death is an illusion…like life

That’s my current plan, but first I need to find some reliable source of the drug. I am in touch with The Albert Hoffman Foundation….the foundation created by the Swiss scientist who first synthesised LSD25 and is dedicated to the type of research I am interested in …research into the capabilities of the drug to aid the human mind to transcend the everyday reality we live in. I will see whether they are willing to help. Failing that, I will find my own source and track my experiences.


Another great adventure and one I am looking forward to with great anticipation and some excitement.


I welcome your input. And acid if you know where to get the genuine article!





We won’t get fooled again

The Roman Catholic Church: Gotterdammerung?


VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – Those who regularly read my articles and essays are aware, perhaps too aware, that I am a committed and vocal anti-religionist. I don’t like to use the word atheist, although that accurately describes my lack of acceptance of any god or religion, because it carries too much social and historical baggage; I reject the word agnostic, because it is used as a way of softening the impact of the more honest description, atheist. I say I’m an anti-religionist because I’m not someone who rejects religion and is merely indifferent to the existence of religion in society; I vocally oppose and decry religion as a poisonous influence in society generally and see it as profoundly harmful to individuals who buy into the concept.

 Nevertheless, I recognise that the religious impulse is not likely to be defeated or go away on its own any time soon. The human inclination to avoid thinking and to replace critical analysis with ready-made rote memorised answers is endemic. Moreover, there are far too many people enjoying too much power and money through people’s adherence to their pre-packaged mythologies for many religious leaders to ‘fess up and admit to the con they’ve been running. There isn’t much likelihood of a sea change in the existing structure as long as the sheep love being herded and shorn, and the wolves have a fondness for fleece and a taste for mutton.

A case in point is the current papal conclave. Pope Benedict XVI has just abdicated the papacy, the first pope to leave office while still drawing breath in some 600 years. The speculation is going full steam; there is no question that he was up to his neck in the scandal that swirls around the child molesting that is rampant within the Catholic priesthood. He was aware of, and probably complicit, if not in charge of the systematic cover up. He certainly participated in if he didn’t actually mastermind the dodging of the laws of dozens of countries where his priests had repeatedly and systematically raped hundreds of children for decades, even centuries with impunity.

 Nevertheless, he’s out of there…going to retire to a life of prayer and contemplation. He’ll retain his honorifics, he’ll keep his major domo, he’ll keep his white cassock, and he’ll continue to live in the Vatican with servants and all the respect due to the man who had God on a speed dial. He’ll give up his red shoes, though, and there will be a new guy in charge, so he’ll hand over the keys to the palace and the cellphone with God’s personal number in it. But before he’s even slunk off into the monastic sunset, the level of conjecture about the new guy is reaching heights previously only achieved by the interest in new girlfriends of British Royalty.

 Will the College of Cardinals elect a Pope of colour? Will they bring in an African to wear the Fisherman’s ring? How about the first new World Pope? That French Canadian cardinal?

 All these are possibilities but the smart money is on another European, quite likely an Italian pope. We’ve had a Polish pope and a German pope, but now the inclination seems to be to retreat to the conservative, tried and true paradigm…pick an Italian, a Vatican insider. Moreover, in the face of the growing demand for sweeping reform in the Church, the likelihood is that the old boys in the conclave will once again go for the most hardline conservative they can stuff into the red shoes. So, when the white smoke billows from the conclave’s chimney, there will be a new old guy with his hands on the keys to the kingdom; meet the new pope, same as the old pope.

 And from my perspective, that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing because it will hasten the inevitable extinction of the Catholic Church…the spiritual mother of all Christian sects. The Church is already in decline; as if they weren’t already scraping the bottom of the barrel, they are having one hell of a time recruiting new aspirants to the priesthood. The obsolete notion of celibacy for priests, the prohibition against marriage, the inclination to exclusion and judgmentalism, and the need to defend ancient absurdities with sophistry meant to impress medieval peasants; all these serve to dissuade intelligent, sexually mainstream, and compassionate candidates.

 Among the Catholics who still cleave to the old ways, progress has occurred despite the moribund nature of theocratic dogma. While the Church still tells its children that contraception is a mortal sin, the rate of use of birth control among Catholic women is roughly the same as that of the general population, well over 90% at some point in their lives. While the official Church position is that only men may be ordained, the majority of Catholics support the notion of female priests. The majority of Catholics are also tolerant of homosexuality and support marriage equality, while the Vatican takes the view that any sexual contact outside of that which occurs between a married man and his wife for the sole purpose of procreation is sinful.

 I have always taken the position that you can’t genuinely call yourself Catholic unless you

Love of One’s Neighbour
(as practiced by the Church)

buy the whole enchilada; you can’t cherry pick your doctrinal points and blithely disregard those you find objectionable. However, that sort of absolutism, although encouraged by the church hierarchy, is far from being mainstream. Christians have a remarkable capacity for claiming to buy the whole bill of goods while studiously ignoring some of the bits that aren’t much fun.

 How many Christians, even Christians who claim that the Bible is literally true and accurate in every respect actually follow the rules laid down in its pages? Oh, we’re not talking about the number of times the average Christian contravenes one of the Ten Commandments; that’s sin. A transgression, even a repeated, routine transgression, doesn’t necessarily mean that the sinner has chosen to pretend the rule simply doesn’t exist. It means the sinner has broken a commandment. No, we’re talking about some really specific, pointed, unequivocal regulations given to God’s chosen people. Pull out a Bible and look up Leviticus and just look through Chapter 11 and keep on reading. If you’re not already familiar with it, you’ll be amazed at the dietary and hygiene laws that are clearly and explicitly laid out there. Best of all, those rules are also laid out in similar specificity in Deuteronomy; God really meant it this time.

 All that having been said, the thing about the Roman Catholic Church that is most salient both to thinking adherent (if that isn’t an oxymoron) and to interested objective observers is how very little the dogma that serves as the Church’s exoskeleton has to do with the teachings of a certain carpenter’s son and friend to fisherman in the Eastern outskirts of the Roman Empire 2000 years ago. The magnificent opulence that defines the Holy See would have that advocate for the poor hauling out a whip and chasing the bejeweled and effete pampered old men out into the streets.

 But that ain’t gonna change, brothers and sisters. Oh, there’ll be something cosmetic…you might possibly see a non-European Pope or something else intended to show that the Church isn’t hidebound. But here’s predicting that what you’ll get is an old guard, very conservative, and even reactionary old fart who will continue to steer the ship of the state of grace directly at the iceberg.

 And that’s the best thing that can happen. That way more people will come to realise that the Catholic Church is an anachronistic, evil empire that has no relevance today, no genuine historical authenticity, and does no good for anyone except the few wealthy potentates at the top of the ecclesiastical food chain, but, on the contrary, does inestimable harm to millions of people the world over.

We’ll be fighting in the streets

With our children at our feet

And the morals that they worship will be gone

And the men who spurred us on

Sit in judgment of all wrong

They decide and the shotgun sings the song

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution

Take a bow for the new revolution

Smile and grin at the change all around me

Pick up my guitar and play

Just like yesterday

And I’ll get on my knees and pray

We don’t get fooled again

Don’t get fooled again

Pete Townshend


In search of the “true” spirit of Christmas

Pre-christian solstice tree

We wish you a traditional Xmas (and a Christ-free New Year)


 VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – One of the cool things about Christmas here in the west is that, except for a rather artificial Christian veneer over the celebrations, it is still essentially a pagan rite.

Although it’s become a modern Christmas tradition to accuse everyone but fellow evangelicals of trying to “take the Christ out of Christmas”, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves that Christ is a relatively new interloper into the ancient traditions. In fact, most of the more venerable traditions associated with the midwinter and new year celebrations are still pagan, and whether they like it or not, the most religious among us celebrate the holiday by performing neolithic pre-Christian pagan ceremonies. The ancient pagan traditions are so pervasive that for most people, if Christ was indeed taken out of Christmas, the holiday would scarcely change.

White Christmas, Chestnuts Roasting, Jingle Bells, Let it Snow, Silver Bells, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Deck the Halls,  all these and more would be sung by children and adults alike, with nary a mention of the bible or god. Some are modern, some are very old indeed; all celebrate the mid-winter or the winter solstice, the festive time of year to which early Christians attached their own developing mythology.

For the Christians to have tied their allegorical tales to the solstice celebrations makes sociological and anthropological sense. In the northern hemisphere, the solstice has been celebrated since prehistory as the time of the year which sees the longest, darkest night of the winter and, on the next day, the rebirth of the sun; from the moment of the solstice forward, the sun is seen to return, with spring soon to follow. A new cult that believed their leader to be the son of god who would return and usher in a halcyon period following the long winter of discontent couldn’t have asked for a better ready-made metaphor.

The return of the sun meant to the new cult: “The Resurrection of the Son”, for he was “The Light”. It slid right in there but didn’t replace the ancient traditions. has this to say about the ancient Wiccan traditions and Christianity:

Christmas is also referred to as Yule, which may have derived from the Norse word jól, referring to the pre-Christian winter solstice festival. Yule is also known as Alban Arthan and was one of the “Lesser Sabbats” of the Wiccan year in a time when ancient believers celebrated the rebirth of the Sun God and days with more light. This took place annually around the time of the December solstice and lasted for 12 days. The Lesser Sabbats fall on the solstices and equinoxes. 

So today’s Christians celebrate a Wiccan “Lesser Sabbat” – the one at the winter solstice that commemorates the rebirth of the “sun god” – by throwing a birthday party for the “son of god”. They even commemorate the 12 days of the festival in songs like “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and by burning a Yule log. I wonder how many of the Christians who bleat about the modern generation and their failure to appreciate the “true spirit of Christmas” realise that they are performing ritual witchcraft rites when they hang mistletoe or put lights on their Christmas tree.

Even the ancient Egyptians had a tradition of hanging evergreen boughs at the solstice in recognition of the annual rebirth of Ra, the sun god, as far back as the Middle Kingdom and possibly even the Early Kingdom….before the pyramids were built; the late December birthday of the sun (or son) is a pagan rite that predates the birth of Christ by several thousand years.

Now THAT’S an office xmas party!

Considerably more recently, the citizens of ancient Rome started a seven-day debauch on December 17. This festival in honour of the god Saturn was called the Saturnalia. It was an empire wide party during which rules of decorum and behaviour were suspended and the good citizens of Rome exchanged gifts, elected a mock “king” (who usually ended up dead by the end of the uninhibited solstice celebration), drank, partied and usually ended the week in a city-wide orgy on December 25.

Now there’s the real “spirit of Christmas” and something genuine traditionalists ought to be taking the Christians to task for forgetting. As a public service for those who are looking for some ideas to celebrate a traditional Christmas I can offer no better advice than to look up “Saturnalia” in any reliable reference book or site and scour the entry for tips. The Saturnalia was, after all, the traditional Christmas, which the emerging and rapidly growing Christian cult adopted and adapted. They stole the “true” spirit of the holiday and turned it into a Christian observation. Nevertheless, the spirit of the season remains dormant but still viable; it still exists in the Christmas tree, the Yule log, the boughs of holly, even the exchange of gifts. So the next time you kiss someone under the mistletoe, remember that you’re paying respects to an ancient Wiccan fertility rite, a Druid rite of worship of the gods of the forest, as well as registering your vestigial connection to the ritual Roman orgy that was the original Christmas.

Perhaps we should listen to the Christians; maybe they have it right. Maybe we should call for taking the “Christ out of Christmas” and get back to the real spirit of the season and party like it’s 20AD!

Happy Saturnalia, everyone!

Joy to the world indeed!