When is a Celt…

5 May, 2009

… Not a Celt?

A fine article of this title by Joanna Hautin-Mayer just crossed my path (via the Naked Woad Warrior‘s blog). It’s a harsh-but-fair look at the level of pseudohistorical invention punted as fact by some neopagan writers. Informative and fun – take for example this gentle dig at the claims made in “Witta: An Irish Pagan Tradition” by Edain McCoy. After noting Ms. McCoy’s claims that the potato as an ancient Irish symbol (having somehow not been aware it was imported from Peru in the 16-17th Centuries!) she also points out this gem:

McCoy goes on to claim that “the famous epic poem Carmina Burana was a manuscript found in an Italian monastery which clearly glorifies the Mother Goddess”(p.4). What exactly this statement has to do with anything, I cannot determine. But in fact, Carmina Burana is the name given to a collection of bawdy drinking songs in Latin probably written down in the tenth or eleventh centuries, the manuscript of which was found in a Bavarian monastery. If pieces such as “It’s my firm intention in a barroom to die” are to be considered as hymns to the Goddess, then all country music must be pagan.

Ouch!

Have a read, tho’ it be longish.


God and pasta, stoning and scorn

24 January, 2009

“They’re just your beliefs. They’re not real.” – Bill Hicks

“Death to all fanatics!” – Old Discordian saying.

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What people believe and how they act on the basis of their beliefs fascinates me. Consider the Flying Spaghetti Monster .

You know the story, I’m sure… a silly alternative to Xtian creationist ideas is created as part of a reductio-ad-absurdam defence against same, resulting in a wildly successful internet meme, a book, and a new ‘religion’ along the Zen-comedy lines of Discordianism and the Church of the Sub-Genius.

One of the truly great things about the FSM website is that they regularly publish examples of their hate mail. Shockingly, the vast majority of such comes from people who identify as Christians – and these missives can be roughly split into two types.

First are the straightforward haters – either vicious or condescending, they implore/cajole/heap scorn on the very idea of the FSM, having apparently undergone a satire bypass at an early age. Here’s a good example:

this is the dumbissst thing i have ever heard……..you think this is ganna make fun of christians then you are a fool! cause the god we worship is real…. and we dont eat him… by the way well pray for you your ganna need it !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! -brittany (sic)

(It seems ‘brittany’ is unaware of that whole transsubstantiation thing…)

The rest mostly consist of reciting Bible quotes and concepts in attempt to refute the position of the FSM ‘believers’. Like this:

“For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.” (1 Chronicles 16:26). “You shall not make anything to be with Me – gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves.” (Exodus 20:23). “What you have in your mind shall never be, when you say, ‘We will be like the Gentiles, like the families in other countries, serving wood and stone.’” (Ezekiel 20:32). “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Exodus 20:3 (Deuteronomy 5:7, Judges 6:10, Hosea 13:4″ -Jerry

(The comment threads on the hate mail are tremendous fun. Often the Xtian poster will attempt to defend their position, with high-larious consequences.)

Here’s the part I just don’t get… why do people think that quotes from their holy book will convince people who are not believers of that holy book? I know the theory – their holy book is The Truth and all those who deny The Truth can (and should, and will) be eventually convinced. The theological version of going to a foreign country and believing the natives will understand you as long as you speak English LOUDLY. I just don’t understand this mindset.

That sort of certainty about your beliefs might seem just funny, or naive. But it’s precisely that sort of fanatical certainty which leads to such ‘righteous’ actions as killing women’s health providers to ‘save’ foetuses. Or execution for apostasy.

Apostasy is a fascinating and horrible concept to me. Although it’s mostly known these days for quasi-judicial murders in Muslem (or Muslem-contested) countries, the less immediately fatal version – the outcasting and stigmatizing of those whose belief in the One True Truth of their family and culture slips – also has terrible effects.

(There seems to be a small spate of apostasy among the pagan community at the moment – several well-publicised examples of former pagan people converting either to Christianity or Atheism. I would note that the majority response of pagan commentators has been to respect these decisions and call for wider interfaith dialogue. No fatwas, no bombings. I prefer this.)

The entire idea of being punished for apostasy ignores (and condemns) the possibility that a person can have a genuine change of heart about what they believe. Of course those within the monolithic grasp of a single True Religion regard those whose personal beliefs change (and, dare I say, evolve) over time as having ‘weak faith’. I could get all Zen and say, “is the willow which bends in the wind weaker than the oak which breaks?” Or I could say, “fuck ’em”. Or both. Depends on the mood.

I have always thought the problem isn’t what you believe, but what you do about it. For instance, my-Beloved-the-ex-neuroscientist-shaman went to college with a Fundamentalist Discordian. Back in her college days, her email handle was ‘eris’. Another student complained that this disrespected his deeply held beliefs. (My Beloved’s reply was to send him occasional emails saying, “Hail Me, dammit!”.)

Dealing with fanaticism and the many differing ‘deeply held beliefs’ in modern society is not going so well. Rather than trying to find a middle ground where those of different beliefs (incluuding the belief that belief itself is wrong) can talk like grown-ups is being pushed aside in favour of a spate of governmental and international initiatives to classify expressing disbelief or satire of someone elses faith as a ‘hate crime’. Especially, by pure coincidence I am sure, those faiths where the believers in question has a habit of killing (or sueing or protesting) those who make fun of them.

Apostasy, criticism and satire are not hate crimes. They are part of a person trying to understand what they and others believe and why. Sometimes that means showing disrespect and scorn for another belief. For that matter, believing one monolithic system is automatically going to be blasphemy to a different belief.

Though I dislike scorn for no reason, or purely out of xenophobia, scorn of fanaticism is utterly justified. I even think it’s necessary. But it can also be a trap – it can easily lead to exactly the same level of fundamentalism as those one is scorning. The best route, I think, is to apply the same humerous and scathing approach to your own beliefs as much (or better, even more than) those you disagree with.

(Oh – and feel free to express scorn for my beliefs. Just don’t expect a free pass when we debate because you have The Truth.)

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“Our motto is: ‘Sincerity is not enough.’ We have heard from enough sincere people to last a lifetime already. Just because you believe it’s true doesn’t make it true. Just because your motives are pure doesn’t mean you are not doing harm.” – The Unitarian Jihad

“Criticism is the only known antidote to error.” – David Brin

(Thanks to the Metapagan news service for some of the links.)