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About that meeting…

From: Sully
To: Jason, dj357, drorgasm, stilldoubting
Subject: About that meeting…


You might have noticed my conspicuous absence from last month’s meeting (the lack of narcissism-fuelled interruptions whilst people were talking might have brought it to your attention).

I gave the meeting a miss in favour of spending a week in the US of A, enjoying Thanksgiving with my ladyfriend, but now I’m worried that I’m missing out on some vital info! Good thing you guys were there! Any chance you could give me a little cheat sheet so nobody notices? I’ll make it worth your while!

Just do me a favour – don’t tell Larry. Remember that time he caught me passing notes during a meeting and put me cleaning toilets for a week? I shudder to think at what he’d do if he found out that I went mitching to partake in yet another holiday that has had its true origins scrubbed from the public consciousness…

So what’d I miss last month?


Friday Music – Jesus Christ

How do you feel about religious allusion in your music? I’m certainly a fan of the technique when it’s used as a cultural reference, but any overtly religious songs revolving around themes of devotion, (or worse, submission) have grated on me since I was a child being forced to sing about being unworthy whilst begging for mercy.

Since it’s Music Friday, I thought I’d share a band that causes me a bit of cognitive dissonance in this regard, hopefully opening the comments to some discussion.

The band I’m about to play are called Brand New, and I initially got into them because I like their style of self-indulgently long and tense buildups, dark imagery, and clever metaphors. After a while, it became clear that those clever lyrics that I was hearing weren’t actually what they were singing, such as the line in ‘Okay I believe you but my Tommy-gun don’t’:

We were contenders, now throwing the fight

which I heard as:

We were pretenders, now bona fide

In that one instance, what I was hearing was diametrically opposed to the original sentiment, which is surely a reflection of me hearing what I want to hear: a bit of optimism in an otherwise bleak song.

The song that I’ve embedded below is called Jesus Christ, and it was the first song I heard off their latest album, the Devil and God are Raging Inside Me.

At the time leading up to the album’s release, I was living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and they were set to play the song on the Conan O’Brien show. Just as the band were being introduced, a friend of mine who had heard the song before warned me that it was deeply religious, and I’d surely hate it. Before I had a chance to say anything in response, the opening notes started:

The song ended, and I spun to my friend who was now peering at me and sniped:

“Deeply religious?” Are you crazy? “We all have wood and nails?” They’re going to crucify the fucker! They’re taunting him!

Despite the shamefully condescending nature of my initial comment, I’m quite aware from the small pockets of discussion I’ve come across that believers point to this song as a mature example of faith in action, depicting a downtrodden, bitter soul who is lashing out at everything whilst still relying on the support of his martyred messiah.

Of course, when I listen to the lyrics, I’m inclined to think that the entire affair is dripping with irony, and by invoking the Jesus Christ character, the author is attempting to frame his hardships with a Biblical analogue.

For example, when I hear the line “So what did you do those three days you were dead”, it sounds insincere, making light of the perceived sacrifice that Christians tend to harp on about. Even the first line, “Jesus Christ, that’s a pretty face” strikes me as an exclamation of blasphemy, coupled with an odd phrase establishing that the words we hear are taking place inside someone’s head.

The line “Do I get the gold chariot? Do I float through the ceiling?” again seems quite insincere, quickly poking fun at the absurd notions of an afterlife that have existed throughout the aeons.

Anyhow – I won’t bore you any further with of my attempts to wrangle the interpretation I want out of the lyrics to a song I enjoy. I should just confess that it’s been two years since I first heard the song, and all that time I’ve deliberately avoided reading any interviews with the band, lest they confirm my fears that my interpretation relies on a heinous manipulation of the facts to worm my way out of an uncomfortable truth.

Deliberately avoiding potential dissonance-causing information is something that nobody should be proud of, but it’s one that I’m sure we’re all guilty of on some level. Then again, can you really begrudge me in this instance when the stakes are so low?

What songs do you have to reinterpret to enjoy? Are there songs you refuse to listen to based on lyrical content alone?

“How did this auction of hyperbole and credulity get started?”

Not many claims made by the Irish clergy are widely or uncritically accepted. Even in Ireland. But the Saintliness of an Albanian nun named Agnes Bojaxhiu, is a proposition that’s accepted by many that are not even believers.

-Christopher Hitchens

Over the weekend I was at my aunt’s house, helping her out with some basic computer-networking stuff, when I noticed that she had a framed picture of Mother Theresa at the end of her hall.

When I saw it, Christopher Hitchens’ documentary ‘Hell’s Angel’ instantly sprang to mind, and for a fleeting instance I wanted to regurgitate the points made in this documentary, challenging the rationale behind her decision to adorn her wall with a picture of a wrinkly hag whose reputation was ill-founded.

Since the documentary was on my mind, I figured “why not share it with the good readers of the MWH blog?”. Rather than attempting to distil it down, butchering the message in the process, I’d rather point you towards the seemingly infinite fountain of contrarian enlightenment that is Christopher Hitchens, so that you may drink deep from the teet of critical-analsyis! [Okay, I’m pushing this a bit, I’ll tone it down now]

Since I’ve yet to fully-figure out WordPress’ embedding of video playlists, click here to watch all three parts, (each eight-minutes long) in a new window.

Pretty thought-provoking stuff, no? But does it matter? Is it any harm to stick up a picture of a woman who is widely revered as a selfless beacon of hope for so many suffering? Should I not promulgate propaganda designed to subvert the widely-held concept of Mother Theresa, lest I deprive a young woman of a potential role model?

This documentary was broadcast in 1994, and has evidently done nothing to her reputation among religious folk since, so I doubt dissemination amongst the doubters will do much damage.

I never did mention anything about Mother Theresa whilst politely supping tea with my aunt – judging by the way MT’s saintly visage was mostly covered by the coat-stand, I doubted she would take much interest in the conversation either way.

Lapsed Catholicism FTW.

Critical Analysis of Catholic Claims

It seems that this week is a good one for sceptical podcasts overlapping with our interests, as I’d like to point you towards another exceptional podcast worthy of your attention:

The Skeptoid Logo

Skeptoid is a podcast that runs for around ten minutes on average, critically examining claims from purveyors of pseudoscience in a clear-cut, informative, and thoroughly enjoyable fashion. This week’s episode is called “The Incorruptibles”, and deals with the assertions of the Catholic Church (an organisation we’re all familiar with) that the remains of their saints don’t atrophy after death.

While the results of his findings are unlikely to surprise you, it’s quite enlightening to listen to someone discuss their findings on a matter most people would disregard without requiring further investigation.

The eleven and a half minutes of essential listening is here!

On a personal note, I got interested in the sceptical movement by listenting to Richard Dawkins’ appearance on Skepticality around the time that Expelled was released, and given the massive overlap of interests between these groups, (and the fact that ‘debunking’ religious claims can be such a tirelessly monotonous and futile exercise) I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see more people sympathetic to our cause developing an interest in the broader rationalist community.

On The Importance of Allies

As much as I hate to be the guy talking almost exclusively about US political-type-stuff on a blog about Humanism in the mid-west, (I can defend my rationale for doing so if you’re interested in challenging it) what I’m about to share is too relevant to developments in the Irish atheist community not to highlight.

The latest episode of the sceptical podcast, Skepticality features a talk from Lori Lipman Brown, lobbyist for the Secular Coalition of America, who fellow yankophiles might recognise from this appearance on The Colbert Report.

The talk, “Pastafarian, Zoroastrian, NonTheist – Can’t We All Just Get Along?” is worth a listen, as it outlines some essential points that those aspiring to set up a serious atheist organisation should consider, including avoiding wasting time on semantic bullshittery, and making earnest attempts to forge alliances with any groups that share any similar goals.


An unsurprising double standard?

Like many Irish folk, I find the US presidential elections to be gripping stuff, and I’ve whiled away many an hour reading the articles and watching the dribs and drabs of coverage that Digg throws at me.

When McCain interrupted one of his supporters who called Obama ‘an arab’, he was rightly lauded by the media for showing a spark of the integrity that once defined his character. However, nobody seemed to pick up on the latent racism his sloppy wording betrayed. Eventually, Digg threw up this video from CNN’s Campbell Brown, who immediately earned my respect for pointing out something obvious in a pointed, mature fashion:

The nature of how I consume my American-News Media (5-minute chunks on YouTube, in case you weren’t paying attention) means that I encounter a lot of pundits, but this woman left an impression on me for having a rare kind of common sense, as well as a willingness to stand up for a minority who are slighted so often that few seem to notice anymore.

My respect for Ms Brown was diminished somewhat by this next clip, relating to an even more egregious misrepresentation of a political candidate’s creed (this time perpetrated by the incumbent senator). The embedded video shows enough background for you to see what’s going on here:

As you can see from the video, Brown commits the same casual linguistic xenophobia that she rebuked McCain for just a few days prior. She hits the word ‘godlessness’ with such a punch it betrays her own derision of the position, and after slamming Senator Dole for ‘falsely accus[ing] her opponent of not believing in God’, she takes the effort to emphasise that this is ‘again, a false accusation’.

Surely they could have run a find&replace on the script from the first video embedded above?

So what if Kay Hagan was an atheist? So what if Senator Dole was an agnostic? Would it matter? When did that become a disqualifier for higher office in our country? When did atheist become a dirty word, the equivalent of dishonorable or radical?

Whenever this gets raised, the implication is that there’s something wrong with being an Atheist-American. And the media is complicit here, too. We have been all way too quick to accept the idea that calling someone godless is a slur.

There are more than X million Atheist-Americans, former Cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, successful business people, normal, average Americans from all walks of life. These are the people that are being maligned here every time this happens. And we can only imagine how this conversation plays out in the Rationalist world.

We can’t tolerate this ignorance, not in the media, not on the campaign trail. Of course she’s not an atheist. Of course she’s not an agnostic, but, honestly, it shouldn’t matter.

I couldn’t agree with you more, imaginary-Campbell-Brown-who-has-consistent-logic. This bare-faced bigotry needs to end.

In praise of Irish Catholicism

Apologies for the fact that this video is ancient (in Internet terms), and I’d imagine that readers interested in our cause have seen it through other, more popular blogs, but it should still serve as a springboard for some interesting discussion. If you’ve 100 seconds to spare, have a gander at this clip from “Now on PBS” in which a right wing religious nut offers her stirring rhetoric on why she will be voting for John McCain:

I’m sure I’m not overstating matters when I say that the only thing that comes close to this woman’s offensive ignorance is her aesthetic repugnancy. Now that I’ve taken a cheap shot at this myopic cretin who believes that the presidential candidate with “the most faith in the lord” is the most important issue in the election, and should be “make or break for everybody”, I feel obliged to reflect on the amount of people I’ve met in Ireland or seen on the media who espouse this nitwit’s religious fervour.

I’ve never witnessed an Irish person so willing to smugly broadcast their ignorance of political issues by blatantly deferring simple questions to a hypothesised celestial dictator. I’m pretty sure that most theistic Irish folk would take great shame in having to resort to revealing their lack of intellectual curiosity by flatly stating “The Lord will take care of us”, then bolstering their answer by admitting “that’s the way I look at things”, as if believing in something is reason enough to believe in it.

Furthermore, I’d like to think that few Irish people would have the stones to posit religious conviction as a grounds for racist discrimination. Watch as this woman chews and spits out the words “President O-bama”, when explaining that his name enough is disqualify himself from the oval office, eager to point out that she is “not the only one”, as her flawed logic shows that a consensus among people means that something is right.

Curiously, this woman finds Muslims more despicable than atheists, as the fact that (“ugh”) Obama had “a mother that was atheist (ugh)” is described as something that “really gets to me”, but his father’s Muslim background “should get to everyone” (apparently no belief is better than the ‘wrong’ belief). This wretched hag even has the audacity to dismiss Obama’s Christian beliefs as not being part of “the Christianity that’s in the bible”

It’s taking me quite some time to get to the point that makes this video at all relevant to the goals of Irish humanists, and part of that is because I feel this is but a smaller part of a larger essay that I plan on writing about how fortunate we have to have such a moderate religious climate in Ireland. As a 22 year old male, I’m aware that I’ve grown up in possibly the most privileged period in Irish history, so I’m eager to hear someone disagree with me, but it seems to me that as an officially Catholic nation, in which the Church’s influence has bled into most of our institutions, Catholicism has become mere background noise.

As the Catholic church is forced to continually capitulate more and more to the tides of progress brought about by greater dissemination of information and an improved scientific understanding of the world (the two are much of a muchness, I suppose), this institutional juggernaut is increasingly enfeebled, as we are now at a stage where the ‘lapsed Catholic’ is the norm, and Church rituals are resorted to when celebrating or grieving because that’s the way things are.

The United States separates Church from State, which is a fantastic idea in theory, but it means that rather than forcing religious dogma on its citizens along with laws and taxes, religion must be sought out in one’s leisure time.

Futhermore, in this Republic of Ireland the matter of a politician’s religious affiliation can be safely assumed to be in line with the majority of Irish citizens who have grown up uncritical of their imposed beliefs, meaning that more time is given to discourse on actual issues than it is attempting to ‘otherise’ the character of opposing political figures.

Like I’ve said before, I’ve simplified matters somewhat to give an overarching view of where I’m coming from, but I do hope to get a little more in-depth at a later date. I’d like to think that Irish atheists and Catholics alike will watch the above video and be justifiably horrified, as this person should not be treated as an example of your average religious adherent – she is a racist ignoramus who justifies it by a religion notoriously open to interpretation. She is a straw woman representing some of the worst traits that religious conviction have to offer, and not much more.

I would like to implore my humanistic brethren to consider that the dominant, most vocal forms of religion in Ireland are quite benign in comparison to what our American cousins must deal with, and we must take baby-steps to assure that in our goal to facilitate a life of Irish apostasy we don’t awake the sleeping beast and cause the enemies of reason to become more entrenched, more vocal, and thus, more influential.

Those all important first impressions…

As one of the new contributors that Jason mentioned a few days ago, I feel as though it’s important that I start off my input to this blog with the kind of entry that gives the reader a feel for who I am and what’s important to me, while tying into the interests of a humanist in the mid-western area.

The following is largely plagarised from my personal blog, an entry called ‘Saints and Shitters’.

Just over a year ago, I became aware of a uniquely grass roots approach to religious proselytizing, one that can be found in a growing number of toilet cubicles up and down the country, and I’m still incredibly curious as to where they come from. Here’s the first example I found in a restaurant called ‘Mother Hubbard’s’ in Oranmore, facing the user as he sits upon the throne.

The Bible is the Word of God - A priest

"The Bible is the word of God - A priest"

I’m sure you’ve seen one of these before, such is their diffusion throughout the country, but how is this getting around so much? Are the priests of Ireland issued with a permanent marker upon graduation from their seminary? Do they believe that man is at his most philosophical whilst exercising his sphincter? Do they believe that  the thick olfactory fog of human fecal matter acts as a catalyst for profound metaphysical thought?

Initially I feared that I may have been missing the point somewhat – it’s very possible that such messages are the richly ironic fruit of graffiti-happy religion spoofers, and any comment on it is but an exposure of my ignorance on such matters. That said, with the passage of time, and the accumulation of evidence, I’m beginning to think this thing is bigger than I had first realised.

Believe it or not, a week after my stop in Oranmore, I was in a Subway (restaurant) on O’Connell St., Limerick, and I found the following in their bathroom:

The Bible is the word of God - A priest

"The Bible is the word of God - A priest"

The first thing that entered my mind was to blog about it and joke about ‘having the lab compare the hand-writing samples’, when I realised that they were a damn-sight similar. But don’t take my word for it – see for yourself (I won’t even make you scroll up!):

Spot the difference

Spot the difference

Just try and convince me that these two don’t look incredibly similar. Look at the penmanship! Look at the way the sentence is formatted! I will be so bold as to say that these were definitely done by the same person.

I will be the first to admit that is is a staggering coincidence that I happened across two of these in the space of as many days, but I guarantee you that I am not responsible for either of them, in case you’re thinking I’m trying to slander the good name of the Jesus-pimping parishioners in our society.

The sightings on that fateful week weren’t the last, dear reader, as (parts 2 and 3 of this epic saga attest), and I’d wager there’s a great deal more instances of religiously motivated vandalism on this emerald isle to uncover, but I am just one man…

One man who recently got access to the readerbase of the Mid-West Humanists blog!

I’m hereby declare that this will be an official project of ours – if you spot a sample that matches the above, document it, report it, and it’ll be added to the list!