Putting the mockers on

4 April, 2009

I have to smile when The Economist agrees with me… in an opinion piece about the awful UN resolution regarding ‘defamation of religion’, they say:

 The resolution says “defamation of religions” is a “serious affront to human dignity” which can “restrict the freedom” of those who are defamed, and may also lead to the incitement of violence. But there is an insidious blurring of categories here, which becomes plain when you compare this resolution with the more rigorous language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 in a spirit of revulsion over the evils of fascism. This asserts the right of human beings in ways that are now entrenched in the theory and (most of the time) the practice of liberal democracy. It upholds the right of people to live in freedom from persecution and arbitrary arrest; to hold any faith or none; to change religion; and to enjoy freedom of expression, which by any fair definition includes freedom to agree or disagree with the tenets of any religion.

In other words, it protects individuals—not religions, or any other set of beliefs. And this is a vital distinction. For it is not possible systematically to protect religions or their followers from offence without infringing the right of individuals.

Advertisement

Mocking the king, not the subjects

4 April, 2009

I’ve made it clear before that though I think that mockery and satire are a good and necessary thing, but only when applied upwards – by the relatively powerless to the powerful. Mockery by the strong of the weak is merely cruelty. Fred Clark gets this, completely. In this weeks installment of his deconstruction of the Dominionist Xtian apocalyptic wankfest Left Behind series, he posts on the Slacktivist blog, he sinks his teeth into a scene where the born-again protagonist wields his not-so-scathing wit at a woman who is not his boss. The mysogyny and stink of entitlement in the scene are palpable. Fred says:

Comedy is essentially revolutionary. This scene is counter-revolutionary. That’s never funny. Everything in these pages is about reasserting hierarchy and punishing anyone who challenges it. That’s never funny either.

Buck Williams isn’t the court jester, he’s the sycophantic court prophet. The court prophet isn’t funny. (Nor is he really a prophet.)

The jester is funny because he mocks the king. He deflates the over-inflated and humbles the proud. This is what comedy does. It’s what comedy is for. It brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts up the lowly; it fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.

..That’s what makes it funny. That’s what makes us laugh.

Everything that Buck does in the Chicago bureau of Global Weekly is intended to tear down the lowly and lift the powerful onto their thrones, to fill the rich with good things and send the hungry away empty.

That’s not funny. That’s the opposite of funny.

Cullenism – every generation gets the religion it deserves?

3 April, 2009

Now I’m hardly one to complain about people drawing on fiction as a basis for their spirituality. But…

A cult of devotees has sprung up based on the teen-vampire-porn-without-the-sex Twilight books.

Blogger (and fan of the series) Amanda Bell writes:

These Cullenists believe “[j]ust like any other religion,” that there is some spirituality to be had in the Twilight series, forming rules and principles upon which to base their tenets. Their creed, say the Cullenists, includes a base set of beliefs that “Edward and the rest of the Twilight characters are real,” that “[t]he Twilight series should be worshipped,” and that “[i]f you are good in life, you will be bless[ed] with eternity with the Cullens.” Other than that, say the Cullenists, there “is not a limit to what you can believe in when it comes to the Cullenism religion . . . we will accept any other Cullenism beliefs you may have.” Cullenists are also expected to read some of the books on a daily basis, “like the Bible” and make a pilgrimage to Forks.

She also gently observes:

While religion and spirituality are a first-hand and very personal experience, and others who formulate their own principles and guidance to help them maneuver through and stay afloat in this challenging, frustrating, and sometimes depressing thing we call life are often praised for their individualism and bravery, the Cullenists might be stretching it a little.

I think the key thing here is not that these people work with fiction in search of meaning – it’s that they insist their mythos is real. That whole it’s-just-a-metaphor thing eludes them. Just like any religion, of course.

And for Valen’s sake, couldn’t they at least draw on a less shite mythos?

(The original post which the above quotes draw on is here, with an update after their fandom went into inevitable meltdown here. The latter would indicate the characters are possibly being used more as Loa than full-blown deities, which could work… but without looking harder on the now-closed forum, it’s hard to tell. I suspect this one could run and run…)


American Fascism and the Divine Feminine

19 August, 2008

Two pieces of note:

Gary Lachman appears to have suddenly discovered Dominionist Xtianity… actually, it’s a good and thoughtful piece, not only about the influence of mysticism on politics but also how he tries to synthesize past and future in modern times. Worth sticking through the comments thread for GL and Daniel Pinchbeck arguing about the importance/value of the 2012 meme and much else.

Speaking of dualistic propositions… this piece by Elizabeth Debold is on the false oppositional dualism of male and female, and considers how to address this in creating a modern female sense of divinity. Food for thought – especially in her consideration how steeped in Victorian ideas of the gender divide Carl Jung was, and how this colours his archetypal models.


Guttershaman – Meanings and Patterns, part 1

5 August, 2008

“The trouble with humans is, we’re all too symbol-minded.” Jolane Abrams.

What do I mean when I say that I’m a magician? What is magic, anyway? And what kind of person goes around believing in it these modern days?

Definitions of magic are many and wide – even if I stick to using those of practitioners rather than anthropologists and such. (A very interesting recent consideration of this by Taylor Ellwood appears here. )

Rather than rehash that debate, I’ll offer my very rough working definition – magic is the means by which some observers can use and manipulate the patterns they observe to change the world.

For me, magic has always been about seeing and making patterns – connections between events, people, symbols, myths. What would be mere coincidence for someone who is not a magician can be a rich signal from Fate to one who is – or, depending on the timing and the mindset of the mage, just an amusing synchronicity. Pattern-making is the core of the oldest magical theories – from the Law of Similarity onward.

There’s a technical term in psychology for faulty pattern recognition – apophenia. It’s the sort of word used to dismiss conspiracy theorists and ‘schizophrenic’ points of view. The problem with that of course is, what exactly is ‘faulty’… especially if that pattern can give rise to a magical action which results in actual change in the world. (And of course, who gets to define faulty.)

Pretty much all human thought, by definition, is about manipulation of symbols. Language is made of patterns of symbols interacting – and if the language lacks a symbol for a concept, it can’t express that idea. Most people, most of the time, do not question the symbols they use, or the patterns made by them. They only rarely question whether the symbol-set they inherited is a faulty pattern or not. To do so isn’t just frowned upon, it’s immensely difficult to do – because the person doing so is trapped by their own language. (I’ll be talking a lot more about this in later posts.)

Large and sucessful patterns of symbols (Richard Dawkins’ memeplexes) have great power, even over those who do not actually consider themselves a part of them. Religions, scientific models, the amorphous thing we call culture… these things shape us, define most of what and how we think.

One way to look at the difference in perspectives could be:

Religion insists on a single pattern for the world, declared by their prophets. To be a member of a faith, you have to stick to that single pattern. If you contradict the pattern, you’re out – or become the prophet to a new religion.

Science claims to define the underlying pattern of the world, and tries to test that pattern. Some parts of the pattern get changed, slowly, when a new variant on the pattern which fits their observations comes along (and enough scientists actually agree that the new pattern is better).

Culture is the mix of old patterns from religion and science, home and abroad, myth and fiction and fashionthe sea in which our ideas swim. This changes constantly, influences all within its range to varying degrees.                                  

Magic uses patterns of all the others and makes up ones of its’ own, mucks around with them and uses the result for its’ own ends.

(I’m aware this is a gross oversimplification. Among other things, there’s a lot of crossover between religion and magic – and the black sheep of both called mysticism. There’ll be more on this as Guttershaman continues.)

Of course, some patterns work better than others, in some circumstances, for some people.

Which patterns work best for magic? Usually, ones that have an emotional resonance for the mage. This wash of emotion is the fuel – or perhaps better, the catalyst – for the magical act. Emotional patterns are rarely logical or organised… and can come from a relatively pure interpretation of a belief system/culture/memeplex, or a hodge-podge of seemingly (to the outside observer) unrelated influences, or anything inbetween.

And it doesn’t seem to matter where those patterns come from, or even if those patterns are (for want of a better word) real – sometimes, they just work.

(I think it’s this emotional subjectivity that particularly offends Rationalists on the one hand and religious types on the other. Both insist that their dogma is an objective truth and that to oppose it or treat it as less than The Complete Truth is just a form of stubborn rebellion, sin, or mental illness. They of course miss that their own beliefs are just as subjective and emotional as the mages – and usually a lot less flexible.)

(This, no doubt, would be the point that a rationalist would point to modern technology and say something like, “this is the proof that our theories are the right ones! Our machines work and we understand why!”
To which I would say… religions made all sorts of nice kit too – churches, books, powerful mind-altering songs and chants – and they were certain they knew why theirs worked, too.
Basically, I think the modern dogmatic rationalism comes from a massive dose of insecurity on the part of its adherents. They know on some level just how recently magic and science were part of the same world-view and hate to be reminded of it. The rest is an understandable fear that the achievements of the ‘Enlightenment’ will be lost as fundamentalist religion tries to regain its stranglehold on the world – and there I have some sympathy.)

Aside from all that of course comes the question of how magic works. What those ‘means’ I mentioned earlier are.

My own view is I have no bloody idea how it works.

I have some theories – tested in practice – on how it can work… But underlying that is a distinct feeling that however we attempt to describe the working of magic, it relies heavily, perhaps completely, on metaphor and simile, on patterns of symbols – and that those metaphors change depending on the ideas and myths available at the time.

I think that’s one of the more interesting aspects of being a magician in these heavily interconnected days. Rather than our range of myths-and-metaphors being limited to the local religious practice (or crude rebellious inversions of same, i.e. Reciting the Lord’s Prayer Backwards) or our immediate cultural influences, a modern mage can find the whole range of human thought to work with, to create patterns from. Or at least the bits that got put in books or online… (Of course this has always been true to a degree – culture absorbs foreign ideas constantly, and magicians are creatures of their culture. But modern communications makes that mixing faster and more complex.)

For example, it’s fairly common for mages these days – as I did above –  to use meme theory as a basis for magical models (and oh, how I’d love to be a fly on the wall when the arch-rationalist prophet Dawkins hears about that!). It’s a handy tool, to be sure – and the point that meme theory is in itself a meme has a nice recursive aspect, always a plus in magical theory. But it’s just another pattern, another metaphor.

The question then is… a metaphor for what? What do these symbols actually symbolize?

I’m kind of old-fashioned about this. I think the thing which a magicians patterns and metaphors try to describe/work with/approximate is the Numinous, The Ineffable, the thing which is beyond/before words or symbols.

It has no name, so I call it Tao.

(Coming up on Guttershaman: More on the word Shaman. Where religion, science, mysticism and magic meet – and usually have a row. Words and symbols, and what may lie beyond them.)

(And something about movies and comic books. Just because.)


Choose your superstition wisely…

29 July, 2008

Been on a bit of a blogging hiatus, but this is too good to ignore…

Birmingham (UK) city council has blocked its staff from looking at some religious websites, but not others:

Lawyers at the National Secular Society said the move by Birmingham City Council was “discriminatory” and they would consider legal action.

The rules also ban sites that promote witchcraft, the paranormal, sexual deviancy and criminal activity.

The city council declined to comment on the possible legal action, but said the new system helped make it easier for managers to monitor staff web access.

The authority’s Bluecoat Software computer system allows staff to look at websites relating to Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and other religions but blocks sites to do with “witchcraft or Satanism” and “occult practices, atheistic views, voodoo rituals or any other form of mysticism”.

Nice that they class atheism as a form of mysticism… but otherwise really dumb.


The death of UK monotheism in a century?

23 June, 2008

Found via Disinfo.com:

Laura Clout writes in the Telegraph:

“Research by the Orthodox Jewish organisation Aish found that just over a third of people thought religions like Christianity and Judaism would still be practiced in Britain in 100 years’ time.

Although four in 10 people said they would choose to be a member of the Christian religion, almost the same number said they would rather practice no religion at all.

Buddhism however, proved more attractive than both Islam and Judaism, and was chosen by nine per cent of those questioned”

At last! A good reason to pursue longevity!


Past rants – On taking the veil

26 May, 2008

This is me wading in on the controversy about Muslem women wearing the hijab. From 8 October 2006.

On taking the veil

I’ve been mulling over this since Jack Straw’s recent pronouncement on the subject of veiled Moslem women There have been some good comments on the subject already – my good mate Cavalorn puts Straw’s words into perspective quite nicely.

Firstly – Straw is a complete wanker. Let’s get that out of the way and move on.

Secondly – the only practical reason to ask such women not to veil their mouths is if one is deaf and cannot understand them without lip-reading.

Third – if removing barriers to communication based on facial expression is so important, why doesn’t Straw ask for sunglasses, Botox and beards to be dispensed with also?

Lastly…

Well, the short version is, “your rights end at my nose”. But as I’ve been thinking about this, my view gets a little… ranty.

Bear in mind this is just my opinion…
…I find overt displays of Christian symbols not only offensive, but nauseating. I feel that xtianity is a faith comprised of roughly equal parts hypocrisy, arrogance, blind acceptance of outdated dogma and whining passive-aggression. Speaking as someone who has never taken the easy path to spiritual belief – constantly seeking and asking questions of the Universe, altering my beliefs on the basis of life experience and trying to never assume that I have arrived at The Truth – xtianity is nothing but a form of moral and spiritual laziness, of unquestioning acceptance of contradictory and repressive ‘truth’… and it sickens me to the core. I truly think the whole belief system is dangerous and demeaning both to those who espouse it and especially those who disagree with it on any level.

And I can’t escape from these symbols. The hideous concrete cathedral down the road peals its bells whenever it wants. Xtianfuckwits wave their faith like a greasy flag on every online forum I belong to, from PDA users to Lost watchers.
I would *love* to pronounce that these wanton displays are offensive to me, or as Straw put it, “make me uncomfortable”. It would give me endless pleasure to rip crucifixes from their throats, graffiti their posters, hack their websites, render unwatchable their cable networks…
…but I don’t. Because that would be intrusive, unnecessarily aggressive and grossly wrong. It would be an act of intolerance, based purely on my emotional reaction to something I do not agree with. There are many people for whom xtianity is a worthwhile and nourishing belief – and some of them are friends of mine.

I find any belief system where you can’t question the dogma, choose to leave, or are severely punished for breach of clothing or other regulations, distasteful. But I am very aware that many find my beliefs equally odious.

Thus it is with women of Islam choosing to display their tokens of faith. You may not like it, you may even be offended by it – but you have no bloody right to order them to remove it.

I know some will say that “the veil is a symbol of women’s status as second-class members of Islam, of their spiritual bondage to a repressive patriarchal system” – and I agree they have a point. I am no fan of the extremists of that faith either. Having spent some years studying Sufi mysticism, I know that there are many paths to Islam (which means, let us not forget, ‘submission’) which do not repress women. Mohammed himself said, “woman is the twin-half of man” – not the lesser partner, but equal.

If they have chosen to take that belief – be that belief xtian, muslem or whatever – to that level, it’s their choice. It would be crass to force them out of their belief on the basis of personal distaste – and anyway, it doesn’t work. People inside a repressive belief system have to find their own way out. You can’t “rescue” them until they are ready. And you certainly can’t assume a lack of consent without very good evidence.

It’s interesting to compare this to BDSM – where the submissive chooses their lifestyle, defines their relationship with the one they submit to and expects to be treated within certain defined parameters which they accept and consent to. The key word here is ‘consent’. A lot of people find such dom/sub relationships highly offensive – many of them are xtians. But to me, a nun is exactly the same relationship, without the fun bit. If a woman consents to wearing a veil, it is her choice – and I am unsure that feminists would be on strong moral ground to argue otherwise. If the woman does not consent willingly – does so out of fear of reprisal, being outcast or even physically harmed – that is another matter entirely. I would hope that there would be ways for such to be able to leave that state… I know that it is hard to deny the ties of religion and family that bind them. But exactly the same is true of those bound to xtianity, or scientology or any other restrictive belief.

The only sensible path I can see is tolerance and honest communication. And if some of that communication has to take place through a veil – whether it be of cloth or of hardened mental attitudes – then so be it. It’s better than just resorting to hatred and war.


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…