Guttershaman – Of Avatar and Otherkin…

8 April, 2010

“…stories dramatize ideas and truths that we all intuitively recognize. Although these stories are not exactly ‘true’, they nonetheless offer a kind of Truth that is more compelling than hard facts.”

Rabbi Cary Friedman, ‘Wisdom from the Batcave

“Believe nothing,
No matter where you read it,
Or who has said it,
Not even if I have said it,
Unless it agrees with your own reason
And your own common sense.”

The Buddha

———————————

It’s an interesting time to be writing about belief and religion.

Consider, for example, the Avatar Otherkin.

Otherkin, for those of you who’ve not come across the concept, are people who believe they are (in some sense, be it spiritually or literally) non-human. There are lots of variations of this belief – some feel they are elves, vampires (in all flavours from Anne Rice-y to Twilight-ish), werewolves or dragons – others believe they are entities from what we usually call fiction – such as inhabitants of the Matrix, anime characters… or, recently, Na’vi from Pandora.

I trust I don’t have to explain what Avatar is.

What’s especially interesting to me (as someone who not only has a lot of sympathy for people looking to fiction for their spiritual metaphors but also who was involved with Otherkin earlier in my occult life) is not just how quickly this particular strain of Otherkin have emerged, but how vehement some of them are concerning their rights.

The Na’vi Anti-Defamation League were founded only a few weeks after the film was released. Their purpose is “to monitor and take action upon groups and individuals who are promoting hate speech and anti-Na’vitism against fans, Na’vi-kin, and followers of Eywa.” Now admittedly they’re a small group on Live Journal… but nonetheless, that they exist at all is interesting to me.

Why Avatar was the film which stimulated such strong feelings – among many people world-wide, not just the rather specialised area of the Otherkin community – is of course not entirely known. Some have suggested it was the exaggerated realism of the immersive 3D environment and computer graphics, or that its (to some folk) rather diluted version of classic mythological themes allows it to appeal to a wide range of viewers – or it could be simply that it’s the biggest hit movie of our time. For whatever reason, it’s become a major metaphor – to the point where Palestinian protesters in Gaza dressed as Na’vi when on protest.

After seeing Avatar, I have to say that all the criticisms – from plagiarism to white guilt – have justification. (A nice cumulative bitchslap version of them all here.)

But, you know, Smurf Pocahontas jibes aside… parts of the film still made me weepy with the sheer mythic aptness of it all. That much-maligned plot – a crippled warrior, twin of a dead scholar, seeks healing & truth in another world he enters through (more-or-less) lucid dreaming, finds magic powers after trials and ends as a fusion of his old and new cultures – None More Miffick.

You can certainly make a case that Na’vi spirituality is a watered down appropriation, a morass of once truly authentic cultural memes reduced to their lowest common denominator… but probably not to someone like me, whose view of the value of authenticity in mysticism is, shall we say, a tad harsh. It could be that the diluted Deep Green/Gaia Consciousness of Avatar simply fits some folk better than anything that other mythos of the world can offer.

And of course you could also make a case that Otherkin – Avatar or otherwise – are just mad. That they’re taking their imagination and wish-fulfilment too far, that they’re just sad fanboys-and-girls who’ve played one too many role-play games.

I wouldn’t.

For one thing – every religion or belief system looks crazy from the outside. All of them. Yes, even yours.

For another, these sort of beliefs are not only becoming more prevalent, but they’re also starting to be recognised as a legitimate expression of spirituality in our post-modern (and increasingly – I hope! – post-Judaeo-Christian) world. The sociologist Dr. Adam Possamai has coined the term “Hyper-Real religions” to describe them, and I’ll be coming back to that idea much more in later posts. Short version for now – people trying to seek meaning in a world where trust in traditional top-down belief structures has failed them often look for new myths to try and work out just who they are. They’re often a lot less picky about how ‘true’ something is for it to be ‘real’ to them… and there’s an awful lot of mythos to choose from these days. The end result – Otherkin, the Jedi religions and much else.

The Tribe of the Strange has a lot of overlapping sub-groups. The Venn diagram for ‘SF fan’, ‘occultist’, ‘tabletop role-player’, ‘BDSM/kink practitioner’, ‘polyamorist’, ‘Pagan’, ‘computer programmer’, ‘comic book reader’, ‘cosplayer’ etc. will often show a lot of people in any one category having at least two of the others going on. Unsurprisingly, they all feed into each other… so that, for example, the roleplayer  – whether in the form of tabletop or computer gaming or sexual exploration – will see a parallel between what they do in that state-of-mind and carry it across to their spirituality. (And if you’ve not yet experienced the kind of intensity which a good role-play session can create, the heightened unreality that nonetheless feels, at the time at least, utterly true and real… then your opinion is, shall we say, uninformed.)

But like any bunch of tribes, there’s a certain amount of internecine warfare going on among the conversations between them. (Drop words like ‘furry‘ or ‘Gorean‘ into some of those conversations, for example…) The degree of snottiness involved usually stems from one group having a perceived status over the other – of being more ‘real’ or ‘sensible’ or ‘proper’ or, my old fave, ‘authentic’. But there’s a phrase from one of those overlapping groups that fits pretty well here.

Your kink is not my kink and that’s OK.

Why not draw inspiration from a myth you know isn’t based on fact? Why does that idea harm your beliefs? For some folk, it just suits them more than the half-true (at best), ‘legitimate’ religions of the world. Some mystics would bluntly state both come from the same source (one version of which is Alan Moore’s concept of Ideaspace). Some would even say it’s more honest than insisting a blurry, ancient myth structure is unassailable truth. At worst, it’s a new perspective, a different angle from which to view the numinous signals that inspire all faith. (Assuming of course that you’re not one of those believers who’s utterly certain theirs is the One True Way…)

There’s nothing at all wrong with drawing on avowedly fictional sources for definitions of your personality, mysticism, even sexuality. The trick is, as I’ve said often before, being able to step away from that viewpoint from time to time, to consider it as if real, not as real. And to be fair, many of those who identify as Otherkin do so. It’s nowhere near as simple as these people suddenly deciding they’re a dragon and not actually thinking about what that entails…

From my experience in these realms, that’s actually hard to do. There’s something deeply attractive, even intoxicating, about getting some confirmation that not only are you not like everyone else, but that there are people similar to you who feel much the same way. The dichotomy of being an individual and being part of a tribe, combined. For me, finally, it was a good and beneficial place to visit, but I couldn’t stay there. For others, it’s a perfect fit. Same could be said of any faith or perspective, really.

But there’s no question that once you permit the possibility of a belief based on fiction having as much validity in consensual reality as established religions, all sorts of interesting problems occur.

Such as the one which sounds an awful lot like a bad joke, that starts “this Jedi walks into a Job Centre…

More on that next time…

“The movie is the modern equivalent of oral tradition. The indigenous people would transfer their theology and ancestral through storytelling. Those stories were mythological from modern standpoint, but still maintained identity in their cultures. Avatar is our equivalent of oral tradition.”

http://nadl-org.livejournal.com/1011.html

———————-

Post Script:

I’m far from the only occultist to note and draw inspiration from the Otherkin – the clear leader in this field is Lupa, whose drawing together of the Otherkin impulse and older shamanic aspects (such as shape-shifting) is well worth your time. Start here with her piece on Shamanism & Subjectivity. This old thread at Barbelith is also worth reading.

If you feel drawn to looking at the Otherkin community further, you could do worse than looking at the forums at Otherkin.com. But if you’re going to comment, don’t be so impolite as to troll or stir it – for one thing, they’ve heard it all before.

And a big retrospective thanks to the Elves – you know who you are…

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Guttershaman – The Authentic Shaman

20 January, 2009

‘Of course the Chinese mix everything up – look at what they have to work with! Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoist alchemy and sorcery. We take what we want and leave the rest, just like your salad bar.’ Egg Shen in John Carpenter’s Big Trouble In Little China

(Disclaimer: I am, to quote Jim Jarmush’s great film Dead Man, a Stupid Fucking White Man. I have no formal training in the deep mysteries of any native ‘shamanic’ or tribal tradition – of any single tradition at all, for that matter. I am just a product of my time and place, trying to find my way. That perspective is the basis for all that follows.)

The title this time around is a misnomer. There are no authentic shamen. Not any more.

The term ‘shaman‘ is a specific one. It refers to Tungus-speaking tribal practitioners of folk magic and spirituality. They were wiped out so completely by Soviet and Chinese Communism that Western ‘neo-shamen’ from Michael Harner’s school came over and instituted their own versions of ‘shamanic’ practice to replace the native tradition. So that makes anyone claiming to be a shaman – neo or Gutter or otherwise – inauthentic.

The idea of shamanism we have today, which draws ideas from many different tribal and native traditions (via anthropology, which co-opted the term), is likely a very different thing than the original Siberian form. The word ‘shaman’ has become a placeholder, a symbol for something else – usually describing various interpretations of traditional and tribal spiritual praxes involving a rather borderline position to the rest of the tribe, consciousness-alteration and ‘travelling’ to spirit realms for healing and wisdom. Of course, in considering the use of tribal spiritual motifs from other cultures, we soon hit a problem… which is usually called cultural ‘theft’ or appropriation.

There’s no doubt that an awful lot of problems have arisen due to the heavy-handed appropriation of older cultural concepts. The Native American Nations have often complained about (mostly) white New Age practitioners taking elements of their practices and touting them, out of context, as a spiritual path. Interestingly, common terms used by Native Americans to describe these Newagers are ‘plastic shamen‘ and ‘shake-and-bake shamen’…

I think the key factors here are around concepts of respect and authenticity. (A third factor is, of course, commerce. That’s a big enough can of worms that I’ll have to open it in a later post.)

The respect part I get, absolutely. Barging into a native tradition and announcing you’re not only a fully-fledged practitioner of that traditions mysticism but that you’re improving it and that the natives are Doing It Wrong, is insulting and crass. “Taking the piss”, as we Brits call it.

If you’re going to work fully in a magical or spiritual tradition, I would say showing due respect to the culture it came from is just good bloody manners, as well as good sense. But at the same time, worrying about how the symbols and memes of such cultures are used (or even misused) outside of their native context often seems more a matter of colonial guilt and shame than disrespect. It’s a complex set of issues.

(Plus, some of those tribal traditions have attitudes and practices – homophobia, misogyny, isolationism, child abuse, human sacrifice – which are frankly best left to the past. Of course the actions of colonial invaders in the past were often just as vile… and I can’t offhand think of a culture that has not been invaded and colonised at some time in their past, or been the invader, or both. Like I said, complex.)

Is it cultural appropriation for a white man to enjoy (or perform) Afro-Carribean-based music? Or for an Indian movie maker to be inspired by Hollywood (or vice versa)? Or an Amazonian native to wear a Manchester United t-shirt? For a magician to use laymans versions of quantum or meme theory as magical tools?

To me, that’s kind like asking whether Crossroads Blues was performed better by Robert Johnson or Cream. Or more directly, which is better – traditional Yoruba magic, Haitian Voudon, New Orleans Voodoo or Cuban Santeria?

Cultures are always a mix of the native and the foreign, the traditional and the new. Have been ever since humans started to trade. The quote at the start states the mix of currents in Chinese spirituality quite nicely, for example. The degree of mixing changes over time and place – sometimes just a touch, sometimes a dollop. Sometimes the mixings can provide something genuinely good – like the massive upgrade to British cuisine provided by Asian immigrants in the 1970’s. Sometimes it doesn’t work so well – such as Japanese whiskey. But cultures and traditions evolve through mixing and exchange of ideas.

This is especially true of Britain, a Mongrel Nation if ever there was one (as explained in scrupulous and often hilarious detail by Eddie Izzard in his TV show of that name). The original native British (and Western European) ‘shamanic’ traditions are all but gone too, banished by the Christians… but enough hints and pieces remain in myth and legend – in our culture – to inspire a new ‘tradition’ of mystical praxis to arise. It’s not terribly authentic, in all likelihood – there’s no way to really know (though many talented pagans and historians are doing their best to find out all they can about it.). Large chunks of it have been drawn from other native traditions. But it is powerful and quite beautiful at times. At other times, it can be a farrago of confused, misquoted and misapplied traditional currents, mixed in ignorance, stirred in arrogance. The result isn’t authentic at all – no matter how hard some Newage types try to claim it as such.

No question that the Plastic Shamen and their techniques are all-too-often a hodge-podge of different traditions and practices thrown together more-or-less at random. And, I have to admit, that could be said of what I do too.

That’s part of the reason I coined the term Guttershaman to describe my path/spirituality/whatever. Most people know what shaman – and gutter – implies.

Yes, I picked up my information from libraries, other practitioners, movies and TV shows – and I made a whole bunch of stuff up, based on my experiences and discoveries. At the same time, there was always something about the shamanic concept as I understand it that called to me. The elements of being an outsider to the tribe as a whole, but still in some sense having a responsibility to it. The use of ecstatic and terrifying occurrences as a tool for spiritual development. The process of bringing something back from ‘the other side’. And, ultimately, the sense of being called to the path by something beyond the normal world. If there’s any ‘authenticity’ in what I do, it’s to that.

My wife is also a ‘shaman’. Her path, to put it mildly, differs from mine. She found that her way is Curanderismo – the Hispanic American folk practice. She has spent a long time in Peru, learning it first hand from a master whose family has worked in this path for generations. She’s also a neuroscientist by training, and has picked up more than a little of the multi-model approach to magic both from myself and her own studies. Thus when she thinks about that path, there is a degree of both distance and immersion, depending on circumstance and context.

Also… her master has taken the sacred songs (icaros) from many different tribes in Peru and elsewhere to bring into his praxis. And… that tradition is itself mixed with Catholic elements brought over by the Conquistadors. In fact, the majority of the lyrics to the icaros are in Spanish and use Christian imagery. The pure native tradition just isn’t there any more.

Is the system she follows ‘authentic’? Is it more or less so for her (an American woman of East European Jewish ancestry and a trained scientist) to practice it than for her Columbian-born, mixed-race, Catholic-indoctrinated Maestro? And is she more or less of a ‘shaman’ than I?

Put it this way – she and I both get results. And we work together great.

It’s the concept of ‘authenticity’ that gets in the way, I think. It’s like ‘purity’ in some ways – an impossible, and sometimes dangerous, ideal. Except, perhaps, when talking about being authentic to an ideal…

To feel your true identity is not based in your immediate family, your tribe, your country and its religious and social habits – but is something you sense and strive towards – is not easy. Sometimes an idea from another culture is exactly the thing you need to, forgive the term, become yourself. Sometimes who you’re born and raised as isn’t who you are. It isn’t theft to find a different culture to your own enriching – as long as you are authentic in your respect, that you strive not just to take but also to give.

As long as you don’t take the piss.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

‘Authenticity is bullshit. Never more so than today.

We can be anyone we can imagine being. We can be someone new every day.

…See if any of these comments are familiar:

“You should be happy with who you are.”

“Be yourself”

“That stuff’s just fake.”

“Don’t get ideas above your station.”

“Take that shit off.”

“Why can’t you be like everyone else?”

Yeah?

We’re not real enough. We’re not authentic to our society.

…But you know what? Back in the days before the internet, a kid called Robert Zimmerman said, “fuck that, I’m going to be the man I dream of being. I’m going to become someone completely new and write about the end of the world because it’s the only thing worth talking about”. And that was one guy in Minnesota, in the decade the telecommunications satellite was invented. Imagine what all of us, living here in the future, can achieve.

Be authentic to your dreams. Be authentic to your own ideas about yourself. Grind away at your own minds and bodies until you become your own invention.

Be mad scientists.

Here at the end of the world, it’s the only thing worth doing.’

Warren Ellis, in Doktor Sleepless Issue 5, ‘Your Imaginary Friend.’

POSTSCRIPT – In researching this piece, I came across a lot of very interesting writing on the subjects discussed. Two I found – one long, the other very short – are especially worth a look.

(Next on Guttershaman – Culture, money and morality. Tricksters and thieves. Probably.)


The Woo, the How and the Why

13 January, 2009

I’ve long been interested in “Occam’s Razor” — the scientific maxim that maintains that all things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the correct one. But who gets the honor of defining “simple”?
It’s a lot like Carl Sagan’s “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” What, exactly, is “extraordinary”? “Extraordinary” to who? Are the criteria subject to change?

Mac Tonnes, ‘Intelligence and the Cosmos’

There are few things more stimulating that reading an intelligent and well-written book whose author you disagree with.

The book in question for me right now is Christopher Brookmyre‘s novel, ‘Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks’. It’s a fine tale, which proceeds from the basic principle that paranormal phenomena are not real and the Rationalist paradigm is the only truth – the book is dedicated to James Randi and Richard Dawkins, which gives you an idea. (‘The Unsinkable Rubber Ducks’ is a Randi term for us poor souls who will never be convinced in the non-existance of the paranormal, no matter how hard our betters try to change our minds…) In the book, Brookmyre does a very good job of showing the arguments of both sides of the debate – though it’s clear that he shares the Rationalist view in the end, he is not too scornful of the Believers of Woo (i.e. not all of us are actual frauds just in it for the money, some are just deluded or too emotionally invested in belief).

The book made me think a lot more about that point of view, and especially why many of those who espouse Rationalism as the One True Truth (not Mr. Brookmyre, I hasten to add) are so very harsh to those in disagreement. And whichever way I look at it, the answer is the same.

They’re Fundamentalists.

Oh I can almost hear their cries right now… “We are not Fundamentalists because that word doesn’t apply to us, because we’re not religious and preaching from a single text and declaring it as perfect and unalterable!”
Well, tough shit.
As Andrew Vachss said so well, ‘behaviour is the truth’. If you act like Fundamentalists, expect to be treated like them.

Here’s what I mean – Do Fundamentalist Rationalists;

Believe in a single inviolable truth?Yes.

(That the modern scientific paradigm is correct in all essential detail and merely requires minor adjustment until it is a perfect description of Reality.)

Insist that those who disagree with their Truth are less important or relevant or capable than them?Oh yes.

(Take, for example, Randi’s finger-poking at the evil proponents of Woo and Dawkins’ declaration that those who agree with him are ‘Brights’ – meaning the rest of us are dim…)

Desire to completely rid the world of opposing beliefs?Yep.

(Rationalist writings of recent years – those penned by Dawkins and Hitchins and such – have explicitly stated that anyone who disagrees with their version of Rationalism is a threat to modern society and strongly express the wish that they cease to do so… admittedly their ‘or else’ is not as unpleasantly explicit as that of Fundamentalist Xtianity or Islam, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say they’d be happy bunnies if all us weirdoes vanished overnight.)

Have double standards around what constitutes ‘truth’?Fuck aye.

Consider for example these two looks at the ‘skeptical’ approach and that hallowed tool of scientific ‘objectivity’ the Peer Review. Also consider the amusing results of when the tools of field anthropology are pointed at the environment of a working laboratory, or when an actual skeptical mind looks at the paranormal and tries to share their results with the Rationalist set.

Refuse to acknowledge the possibility of being wrong or having any flaws in their own paradigm? Let’s see, shall we?

Drop in on Randi’s website forum, or the comments on the Bad Astronomy or Pharyngula blogs. There’s a lot of straw-man arguments, insults and ad hominem attacks (not the same thing), plus more than a little scorn, rejection of dissent and emotional manipulation of their followers – but neutral considerations of reported phenomena? Pointing their ‘skepticism’ at their own models? Not so much.

So… if that’s not a fundamentalist attitude, it’s real hard to distinguish it from one.

Here’s an illustration of Rationalist Fundamentalism in action…
A few years ago, neurologist and Rationalist spokesman Stephen Pinker wrote a book called ‘How The Mind Works”.
What colossal arrogance. And what a clever title – two false statements in a mere four words.
1. The book is a pop-science work on modern brain theory and research. It’s not about Mind at all… it merely assumes that Mind is a by-product, an epiphenomenon, of Brain. This is something other researchers would query, and even in some cases say is completely refuted (there is evidence for competing models about consciousness as a whole-body, or even a non-local, phenomenon.)
2. We’re an awful long way from knowing how the brain works – let alone the mind.
For instance, I can offer evidence that pretty much every single model of thought and consciousness which regards the brain as central and essential is incorrect – and I can do it with one word.
Anencephaly.

This is a birth defect where much of the cerebellum or other major brain structures are missing or severely deformed. Normally it’s fatal. But…
There are some people who grow to adulthood with this condition. Sometimes, it’s not even diagnosed until adulthood, due to a MRI for an unrelated condition. In short, there are men and women walking around the planet today who have effectively no brain – just a small bunch or strand of neural tissue and an awful lot of cerebro-spinal fluid in their heads.
(I’ve talked about this before, but the paper I linked to has changed location. Here’s another paper on the subject.)

These people, though rare, are conscious by any reasonable test of same – not imbeciles, they’re capable of thought and speech and movement (and are not, to quote Steve Martin’s classic movie ‘The Man With Two Brains’, “sitting in the corner and going tttthhhppp…”). Yet despite the existence of these people, the standard model of neurology has not, as would be the correct action in a true spirit of scientific enquiry, been binned.

The refusal of scientists as a rule to acknowledge such ‘black swans’ easily (if at all) is understandable to a degree. Their models work pretty well, most of the time. Modern neurology is a damn fine thing, has saved many lives and brought about remarkable understanding. But it’s also incomplete and in many parts contradictory. And its attempts to deal with the so-called Hard Problem of Consciousness, with some noble exceptions, mostly consist of sticking their fingers in their ears and going “la-la-la-la”. (Best example is Susan Blackmore – who merrily insists that consciousness is basically a delusion, but never quite manages to answer the question, “what’s doing the deluding, then?”, or wonder if her own Buddhist beliefs could possibly colour her views.)

Probably a good time (yet again) to state my views on Science…
I think modern science has made the world, on the whole, a better place. I certainly much prefer to live in this time and place rather than under any fundamentalist religious regime.

But… I don’t think science is complete or wholly accurate. I’m fairly sure it can’t be, by definition.

All science can do is make and test models, theories of how reality functions. (To nick from McLuhan – “The map is not the territory. The menu is not the meal.” And no amount of insisting will make a menu edible.)  Useful, but not necessarily completely true.
Plus, that which does the modelling is far from infallible.
I know (from working in labs myself, and knowing various professional scientists in fields ranging from neurology to astrophysics to psychology to particle physics) the actual process of scientific research is fraught with nepotism, political manoeuvring, hide-bound attitudes, bad intellectual habits and on occasion outright bribery and fraud… and if you think you’re going to get a Pure Truth that way, you’re more deluded than Randi’s minions would think I am!

There is a method within the scientific world for dealing with contradictions and oddities – it’s called the multi-model approach, was pioneered by Niels Bohr and has a lot going for it.
Trouble is, it pretty much denies the One True Truth idea… and thus is avoided by Fundamentalist Rationalists like the plague. It’s not a favourite of Fundamentalist Religious types either.
And if that’s not a recommendation…

The point I’m trying to make isn’t that science is completely wrong and mystical belief is always right. Or that all models of the world have equal validity. Far from it.

I’m just pointing out that absolute belief in any kind of One True Truth is a trap. As the old Discordian saying goes, ‘convictions cause convicts’. The same habit of thought which leads the likes of Dawkins to insist that modern science proves God doesn’t exist is pretty much the same one that has ‘Intelligent Design’ proponents both ignore all the evidence that contradicts their model and simultaneously miss the point that even if there is evidence for the universe having some kind of Designer, that doesn’t prove that said Designer was their God.

It all comes down, I suspect, to a very human decision. Choosing who to believe, whose word to trust. Who you choose as an authority shapes everything you think.

And we do not always choose wisely.

“Religion is not an exact science. Sometimes, of course, neither is science.”
Sir Terry Pratchett, Nation

(Special thanks to ‘Dr. Jon‘ for several of the links, and of course to the late Robert Anton Wilson for inspiration.)


Past rants – Christianity is stupid

26 May, 2008

…and sometimes I just get downright pissed off.

Please – if you are (as Stephen King put it in the Dark Tower series) ‘for the Jesus-man’, read the whole piece before throwing stones.

(From 6 November 2006)

Christianity is stupid

(part of the xtianfuckwitwatch service)

I have finally fucking well had enough. It’s time to say it how it is.

Ever since the ‘election’ (which I do not for a second believe was free or fair, but that’s moot), there have been continuing reports that the Democrats want to try and appeal to ‘faith groups’ to try and win the next one. Specifically, to become more acceptable to the particular breed of Protestant Christian fundamentalism that seems to be taking over their country – just so they can be elected next time. And that this Christian hegemony are taking this ‘victory’ as a mandate to push their life-hating, woman-and-gay-phobic, world-crushing agenda.

They – and you – need to remember something important.

Christianity is Stupid.

(OK, here’s the disclaimer. Individual Christians can be perfectly intelligent and good people. But this can happen with anyone, from any faith or none at all. I never met a person who was a good person solely because of their faith. Usually, it was in spite of it.
Christians can be clever. But Christianity, like any hidebound monolithic faith, is Stupid.)

Christianity is, at root, saying that the Bible is the only source of truth possible. The only source of moral, philosophical or political validity.

Let me rephrase: A multiply (and badly) translated outdated desert survival manual for a nomadic people, full of contradictions and myth-masquerading-as-fact, metaphor-accepted-as-history and sheer hypocrisy… is The Truth and The Only Truth.
And that only those who agree with this claim have any moral code worth accepting.

Fuck off. Just fuck off and die.

There is no clear moral code in the Bible. It all depends on what you choose to emphasise. You can say the Bible teaches us to love our neighbours, to forgive sins, to try and be as a little child in order to achieve spiritual grace.
Or you could just as easily say the Bible tells its followers that throwing the priestesses of any other faith from a high building for their remains to be eaten by wild dogs, allowing your daughters to be raped by friend and foe alike, incest, child sacrifice and murdering people with tattoos who eat shellfish are acceptable moral acts.
You can take from it that Jesus loved the poor, the meek, the downtrodden, even women in the sex trade – or that the whole Sermon on the Mount thing was all about making money (as the Prosperity Theology branch claim…).
And before you mention it… it’s clear that the Ten Commandments mean fuck all to the Bush-supporting Christians. Especially those little bits about murder and theft.

(Obligatory Bill Hicks Quote; “They say the Bible is the exact word of God.. then they change the Bible. Pretty presumptuous, don’t you think? ‘I think what God meant to say was…’ “)

And then, most laughably, they call the newer multi-model modes of belief ‘pick and mix religion’ ! When practically all their rituals, saints and demons are stolen from every religion they exterminated or country they conquered – all in the name of their Prince of Peace…

It’s times like this that I understand why the theory of evolution scares them so much.
It’s not so much that the theory challenges their version of history, or their precious Book. I think it’s far more the idea of evolution as a metaphor, the concept that societies and individuals can move away from past moribund structures and adapt to new conditions, that they must change, that really puts the fear in them. Because their ideas, their ‘faith’, are all inert. Only capable of retrograde movement if any. Dead words mouthed by dead souls.

Their whole life view is so totally removed from anything in the actions of their supposed prophet, or life in the modern world, it would be laughable if it wasn’t for the current re-enactment of the Crusades.

It’s literally like watching Future Shock enacted in front of your eyes. The main reaction to fear of the future, of a complex changing society, is to retreat into simple, narrow, fundamentalist beliefs and try to deny all other realities. The United States has, in the term coined in Judge Dredd, ‘Gone Futzy’.

So, to recap:

Believing the Bible is anything but a set of myths and outdated behavioural codes is stupid.

Treating those who act in such a stupid way as possessors of moral superiority – stupider still.

Accepting the moral authority of someone giving that belief as justification for their actions, especially actions which involve mass murder, the deaths of countless children, lying on an epic scale, corruption and the blending of church, state and money (the last of which I seem to recall was the only thing that ever got Jesus angry…) – complete fucking idiocy.

Thinking you are always right if you believe the above and everyone else who disagrees with you in the slightest way is wrong and evil – clinical brain death.

Despite the above… I do have some sympathy for those Christians in the US who are anti-Bush, not afraid of the modern world or complex thought and do not use their belief as an excuse to persecute those who differ in faith. Theirs is a tough path right now. But they won’t find their answers in that book of theirs – or in any single book, belief or perspective.
The only answers for times like these are found within, and from talking to people of good conscience and moral honour, whatever they believe God to be. From learning, adapting, evolving.

Even the Bush regime itself has bluntly said they are ‘creating their own realities’ these days.
They should not, can not, be the only ones.

And most of those realities, the healthy ones that will endure and thrive, shall come from living minds, not dead books.

Though it’s not very ‘wound-healing’ or ‘bridge-building’, I think the best thing that can be done in America right now is to emphasise everything non-Christian (or at least their idea of Christian) that you can.
(Not ‘Satanism’ – that’s just Christianity’s Loyal Opposition.)

For example…
Ever wondered why Christianity is so down on gay sex, masturbation, contraception, abortion and such?
It’s ‘cos in a nomadic desert community, the gene pool is really, really shallow. You can’t waste food and resources on any members (pun intended) who have non-reproductive sex. The reason for the rules was forgotten by the priests ages ago – only the phobia remains.
Plus, of course, non-reproductive sex (especially the Great Unmentionable Taboo of sex with a menstruating woman) are powerful acts in sex magic…
So use that magic! Raise that orgone! Live and love freely, banish the fear with your desire – and be as out about it as you can. Show them they don’t live in the world they think they do. Protest your right to consensual love and sex as a religious freedom – because it is.
(Sod the Left Wing – long live the Left Hand Path!)

Challenge them every step of the way.

If they insist on the Ten Commandments being in your courthouse, demand Buddha’s Nine Truths be there too. Or quotes from Harry Potter, Dune, Star Wars! Any book or story you find any kind of truth in can be spiritually valid – especially considering their example…

If the local church gets funding from the government for ‘faith-based’ social initiatives, found a church yourself and go after the same cash! Use their self-proclaimed rights against them.
Never ever let their words, their memes, stay unchallenged.

This is cultural Germ Warfare. Mind viruses battling. Unless you can get the immune system of your culture active, America will die of something worse than any physical disease.
It’ll die because it has poisoned its own soul.

And if you still believe in your soul you are a Christian – then listen to what Jesus said, act as Jesus did – not how his posthumous corrupt priests want you to act. It’s the priests, not Jesus, who want you to be unquestioning obedient sheep for them.

It’s Christianity, not the following of the way of Jesus, that is Stupid.

“It is easy to be a criminal. In this world, it is very hard work to be human.
They are drunk, and they do no work, and they are all criminals.
If you try and wake them or sober them, they will be terrified and try to kill you.
Be as gentle as doves and as subtle as serpents.

“These words shall not be understood until the male becomes female, and the female becomes male.

“If you fast, you will create great evils. If you pray, you will be cursed. If you obey the law, you will lose your souls.
But act from the light within and you will do well. Heal the sick, console the dying, make jokes in the face of the wise and teach only one thing: the Kingdom of Heaven is here and now. Smash, smash the old laws and wake from the lie that all men believe.”

Jesus, Nag-Hammadi Scrolls.


Past rants – People of the Book, People of Books

26 May, 2008

This second rant, from 6 April 2006, is a good example of how I write, in that it’s got swearing and a certain degree of exasperation. But it comes from a good place, I hope…

People of the Book, People of Books

Or, Cat makes yet another attempt to explain the multi-model approach to belief.
Moslems call themselves The People of the Book, and also offer the title to the Christians and Jews. It’s a term of respect, a statement that these folk have a commonality to Islam. That their versions of The Book have (almost as much) relevance as Al-Koran. This is not altogether surprising since, the book in question is basically The Old Testament in slightly variant forms and some addenda.

There’s some truth in that, certainly. All three major faith texts from the group emphasise charitable acts, compassion and and other acts usually consider ‘moral’. They all disapprove of stealing, lies and taking any true authority above their God, however they try to pronounce his name (or in the case of Judaism, avoid doing so). But the Book In Question is one they all have as a deep part of their history.

Each group has had a ‘mixed’ history of encounters with other faiths. It’s notable that when all three of the Abrahamic belifes were in the same place and time and were not actually busy with Crusades and such, they tended to get on quite well. Take ‘Saracenized’ Spain (700-1100ce) – here was almost a collegiate spirit between the three Peoples of the Book. Each faith was debated in lively but non-violent fashion in the cafes of the towns. Rabbis, Priests and imams – even pagans and doubters – debating, discussing, comparing on an equal footing – in a part of Europe invaded by Islamic Moors. Just before the Inquisitions.

Od course it couldn’t last. But even after Christian forces eventually retook the area many would look back on it as a Golden Age – especially Jews, who suffered no unfair taxes and little persecution. Much great literature flowed from these times, as well as scholarly works on medicine, engineering, mysticism (from the Sufi and Kabbalist both, as well as more orthodox branches).

Cut a thousand years into their future. Those three Peoples of the Book are at war again – this time the Jews heavily (if, so Left Behind-types hope, temporarily) allied with the Christians. All three are reading their Book more literally, less metaphorically. The pages on compassion flash by as they look for the ones featuring the word ‘smite’.

And for the longest time I’ve been wanting to grab the whole lot of them and just shout;
“Try Reading A Different Fucking Book Once In A While!!”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve read a lot of books. Some influence me more than others. Some moved me to tears or laughter. Some moved me to sling them across the room and startle the cat. Still others made a connection to me – a profound discourse seemed to occur, the feeling of genuinely being exposed to the universe in new and startling ways by the author and their words. From such books I rose a literally changed man, my mind forever altered by those ink marks on paper.

Many of the books that gave me that all-changing input were by the likes of Robert Anton, Peter Lambourn and Colin, Wilson. Aleister Crowley, John Lilly, Fulcanelli, Patrick Harpur, Phil Hine, PB Randolph, so many others. Just a taster (and I’m not even starting on the fiction, comics, TV shows and films that had equally profound effects on my mind and even soul).

And Every God There Has Ever Been bless the librarians who allowed me access to these writers long before an alleged child was supposed to read them.

With wealth like that, why would anyone even considering sticking with just one book on which to base their entire relationship with God?

I suspect some books get under the skin of some folk and stay there. Others actually discourage looking at other books, like a stubborn virus retraining the host to attack rival virii. Little meme-bombs like “all other books/beliefs/ideas not listed here in The Big Book are evil, blasphemous and will leave you tainted.

The best way to fight that meme effect is to read as much as you bloody can. Especially stuff you disagree with – politically, spiritually or whatever. (If nothing it gives you useful intelligence on how one’s opponents think.)

Read fiction too… sometimes good ideas get coded better by such metaphors. Plus, reading fiction (especially science fiction or fantasy) will train you ‘living mentally’, for a time, in another universe and learn new cultures of thought and possibility. Once you’re in the habit of jumping from one possible universe into another, over and over again, the idea of trying religious mindsets as temporary universes to inhabit, explore and test out becomes that much easier – though always remember not to stay in one book too damn long!

Then go back to that Book of the Peoples and see how it reads.
Is it really the only book you need in your life, now?

If it is, then you’re a Christian, or Jew, or Moslem – and I hope you are a good one. At least you’ll have a few more conversation topics!

But consider occasionally the rest of us, the Peoples of Books. Since you found clues to your idea of God in your texts, is it impossible we found some in ours? And is it impossible to have those same kind of conversations with you as were had in the sunlit cafes and darkened dope-filled back rooms in Toledo and Alhambra and Compostella, all those years ago?

I hope not. Because if all those who truly seek answers about faith, belief, magic and spirituality have more in common than in opposition, perhaps we can widen the conversation to include those other People of the Book. The ones who only use the short, bitter words and callous sentences, ignore the beauty and compassion and just want all those who read other books to them to shut up and die.

As for The People of Books, my tribe and peer group… let’s not waste time with picking and choosing which of the Peoples of the Book have The Answer.

Let’s go find answers of our own, share them with those who want to hear, speak them to all who listen and keep checking, keep comparing our ideas of Truth. Someday we might hit on the One That Works For Everyone… or more likely, we all get our own version that works for us and maybe a couple of mates – and then go compare notes with another mob and see what we can each of us teach and learn.

And every time you think you’ve found The Book, the one that explains *everything*… go read a few more first. It’ll still be there later. And it may read quite differently after the gap.

Last tip, from Mark Thomas;
If you’re in a ‘discussion’ with a Person of the Book and they throw a quote at you from their text, just reply from one of your Books, said with as much validity and pride.

Like, “The Dark Man fled across the desert and the Gunslinger followed.”
Or, “I see this weird occult stuff every time I watch a movie”.
Or, “And whatever happens, never forget to wipe your sword.”
Or… take your pick. The odder the reply, the funnier the contrast, the better the response is. And if the poor thing who just tried to take on your library with a single tome wants to continue… have fun.

But be gentle. At least they’ve *read* a book…