Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Understatement of the month

After a gang rape at a school dance in the US:

"‘‘Obviously we’ve had some breakdowns. Obviously, it was not safe because this happened,’’ said Charles Ramsey, a West Contra Costa school district board member. ‘‘Should we have had higher awareness, should we have been more vigilant? Probably.’’"

No... that last world should be YES.

If people felt that gang raping a 15 year old girl was ok, there are a lot of things wrong with that school. I don't really know where to begin with the list of things that are wrong either... apart from EVERYTHING. At least the police are actively investigating the rape and assaults and hopefully the judicial system will not use the "oh but she asked for it" line.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Australia and secularism

When I read or hear something, particularly someone's opinions about a subject, I try and apply it to my own experience and see if it fits. When something doesn't fit in within my experience its harder to understand the concept... maybe I'm simplifying things here, but having experience of something, positive or negative, or even just because its nearby and not something I've directly experienced, makes it easier to identify, positively or negatively with an opinion or experience of someone else.

I used to interview people seeking asylum in Australia and am used to having to understand situations far beyond my experience and knowledge. I have had to consider trauma, torture, gross discrimination and abuse in relation to people sitting in front of me that I barely know and who have gone through situations I can barely imagine. So, I do get that I have not lived a life full of everyone's experiences, and nor would I want to.

But when I see a nation, that for all intents and purposes appears to be like my own country (Australia), specifically the US, I think that perhaps things should be relatively similar. Because they purport to be on TV and other media. With one HUGE exception... religion.

I spend quite a lot of time reading atheist blogs all of which are based in the US. I read about their desire for community, discussions about who is representing atheism and how, what atheism is, and how to make a stand for their beliefs (or lack of them depending on how you look at it) without losing family, friends or their jobs.

Big parts of these blogs don't resonate with me, and I've been trying to put my finger on it, and finally did when I stumbled across an article in the free newspaper that is available each weekday evening at train stations in Melbourne.

Before I announce my revelation (which is in the title anyway), I do want to state that I am by no means dismissing the experience of atheists in the US or any other devoutly religious country and the experiences they have to go through to hold their heartfelt beliefs. This post is about my experiences and how they differ from atheists in the US.

Anyway... back to my thoughts and revelation. Australia is an incredibly secular country. In fact we've voted in a Prime Minister who was atheist, as well as other politicans and we clearly didn't mind. Sure we have religious whack jobs in Australia who attempt at various times to gain political power, but they tend not to gain an amount that threatens the secular nature of the country and often the next political party to gain power distances themselves from the religious whack jobs. I'm specifically thinking of the Exclusive Breathren an Pastor Danny Nalliah as the two biggest, and yet still very uninfluential, religious whack jobs that have attempted to gain some political leverage recently.

According to census data, thankfully provided in nice graphical form by Wikipedia (go on, click the link and read the article), Australia may be as much as 30% non-believers or atheists. In the 2006 census, 18.7% of people indicated that they had no religion and a further 11.9% of people did not answer the religious question (it was optional), which is where the 30% figure comes from. As "Australia the Confusing Country" written by Jeremy Lee attests, "Religion and politics are safe topics of conversation (Australians don't care too much about either) but sport is a minefield."

The Wikipedia article previously cited also states:
  • Although many Australians identify themselves as religious, the majority consider religion the least important aspect of their lives when compared with family, partners, work and career, leisure time and politics. This is reflected in Australia's church attendance rates, which are among the lowest in the world and in continuing decline
  • In a 2008 global Gallup poll, nearly 70% of Australians stated religion as having no importance, much higher than their American counterparts, and on par with similarly secular countries such as Japan, the Netherlands, Finland, and France. Only a few Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark) and post-Soviet states (Estonia) are markedly less religious.
  • The Sydney Morning Herald, an Australian newspaper with a centrist viewpoint, asked its readers "Would the world be better off without religion?". 81% responded in the affirmative (April 2009)
  • A 2006 study by Monash University, the Australian Catholic University and the Christian Research Association found that 52 per cent of Australians born between 1976 and 1990 have no belief in a God.
  • A 2008 Christian Science Monitor survey of 17 countries reported that youth from Australia and the United Kingdom were the least likely to observe religious practice or see any "spiritual dimension" to life.
So I get that Australia is far, far, far more secular than the United States. So much of the struggle that American atheists go through is not something that atheists in Australia even have to think about. There many be family issues for some atheists if they are coming from devoutly religious families, but generally the issues for American atheists are far different than those of Australian atheists. This is why I struggle to identify with issues raised by US atheists on blogs at times, because I'm living in a vastly more secular world.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Someone else doing it doesn't make you less guilty or wrong...

Look, look... they're doing it too, so we're not bad... Everyone else is doing it!



And adults who have sex with children are paedophiles, not "homosexuals attracted to sex with adolescent males"... because that's a sorry attempt to link homosexuality with paedophilia again. Research has demonstrated that homosexuality and paedophilia are not linked. If the clergy who were abusing children were homosexual, why aren't they off having sex with other adult men? Yes, crickets chirping again... how many gay people do you know? How many of them have sexual interest in children? I don't know a single one. I'm not saying that there many not be a paedophile who may also be homosexual, but its not homosexuals who are paedophiles... if anything, it may the other way around in a small number of cases. Men who prey sexually on boys (and children) usually self-identify as straight.

When The Vatican actually stops sheltering those of its clergy who are breaking not only the laws of the countries in which they are working, but also the Commandment that Jesus gave to love one another as He had loved them, then hopefully things might start to improve. That does involve a complete restructure of the power structures within the Catholic Church, and that requires a religion willing to change. One day a reformist might manage to wrest the Pope-hood from the cooling corpse of the previous Pope, but I don't expect that to happen in my lifetime, and I've got another good 50 years in me.

I heartily approve of this quote from the article above:

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, head of the New York Board of Rabbis, said: ''Comparative tragedy is a dangerous path on which to travel. All of us need to look within our own communities. Child abuse is sinful and shameful and we must expel them immediately from our midst.''

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Some good religious blogs to read

Because you can never do too much reading.

The Friendly Atheist - Hemant Mehta posts on atheism and the separation of church and state
The Thomas Society - Jonathan Weyer is a campus minister in the US
Pharyngula - PZ Meyers sometimes also posts on science
Greta Christine - posts about atheism, sex and feminism (not usually at the same time)

Saturday, September 12, 2009


I'll start this post by detailing my beliefs. I was raised as Catholic, and stopped going to church because of the way the church is run pisses me off, and because I disagree with a substantial amount of doctrine.

I am not convinced on the existence or not of a God/ess and am hedging my bets at this stage. I'm not entirely convinced that Christianity has it right, or any religion on this planet actually... I'm a middle class, white, feminist... who is poly, kinky and bisexual... so that should give you enough background to understand where I'm coming from in this rant.

I will focus mainly on Christianity, because I feel more qualified to comment on that having grown up with and studied Christianity, but there will be bits when I take broad brush strokes at religion and faith in general - regardless of the actual make up of that faith.

This is going to get a little long, and has many links that back up my argument, so I want you to click on those and read them or view them in conjunction with this essay.

Faith and the state of mind

Those who believe in a god, who are religious and devoutly so, seem to suffer less stress and anxiety according to Science Daily. Unfortunately, this can mean that they don't stress or angst over errors they have made, including driving errors, political errors or other errors which may place peoples' lives at risk. Sure its positive that religion can make you less stressed, but when you're a political leader suggesting war or questionable interrogation methods against foreign combatants, I'd personally prefer you to stress about making an error and be 100% sure that you have made the right decision. If you believe that a god will look after you when you are behind the wheel of a car, surely actually driving well and according to road rules will make the road a safer place for you and your family and everyone else. Trust that you know how to drive, not that a deity will look after you.

As Inzlicht (from the above study) states:

"Obviously, anxiety can be negative because if you have too much, you're paralyzed with fear," he says. "However, it also serves a very useful function in that it alerts us when we're making mistakes. If you don't experience anxiety when you make an error, what impetus do you have to change or improve your behaviour so you don't make the same mistakes again and again?"

Studies have found that prayer actually physically changes your brain... well prayer/meditation.... so not just a quick prayer before bed, but deep involved prayer or meditation... seeking the divine. NPR reported on the changes that fixating on something can cause and a new field of neurology of "neurotheology".

Andrew Newberg, as reported in the NPR report, states:

"The more you focus on something — whether that's math or auto racing or football or God — the more that becomes your reality, the more it becomes written into the neural connections of your brain."

Newberg scanned several devout religious people, Buddhists, Franciscan Nuns and Sikhs, and looked at how their brains reacted when they meditated/prayed/chanted. He found that in relation to brain reaction, "There is no Christian, there is no Jewish, there is no Muslim, it's just all one."

Basically, religion, or any other focused activity, can sculpt your brain, and doing so can be a conscious choice, just as choosing to trust entirely in a deity and not questioning whether you have made mistakes or not is a semi-conscious choice. Personally I think that actually thinking about your actions would be lovely and if you want to sculpt your brain, please do it under guidance from a trained professional.

Blind faith

Blind faith annoys me. Blindly accepting what someone tells you without critically examining it, without thinking about whether or not what you are told is true, whether it matches with the reality that you are living within or even investigating it simply is lazy and sadly, all too frequent.

Many religions are accused of enforcing blind faith amongst their flock, with charismatic leaders not encouraging questioning, outside influence and basically inducing fear that the "other" is evil and Satan influenced.

Thanks to blind face we have "churches" like the Westboro Baptist Church and so called "Christian" pastors like Tom Estes. Neither which, if you look at what they preach and practice seem very Christian from what I was taught be a Christian.

The Friendly Atheist website has an interesting blog post commenting on a post from the naked pastor about those who return to church after a long absence/s. Stuff like:

One discovers almost immediately what the belief system to be embraced is. Critical and inquisitive thinking is generally not welcomed.

The lack of critical and inquisitive thinking causes problems in all sorts of areas, it can lead to suicide bombers (and did you know that the Tamil Tigers (a political organisation) were the first organisation to implement suicide bombing?), it can lead to violence and/or distrust of others who do not share your beliefs, it can lead to groups like the Westboro Baptist Church (for an interesting read on the Westboro Baptist Church, here is a blog written by someone who left) and basically isn't good for you or society in the long run.

Blind faith can lead to you accepting that shit happens in the world and not questioning why. In March 2009, a gunman wandered into an Illinois church and killed the pastor before stabbing himself and two others. Comment was made as follows:

"Our great God is not surprised by this, or anything," Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association, said in a statement. "That he allows evil and free will to have their way in tragedies like this is a mystery in many ways. But we know we can trust him no matter what, and draw close to him in any circumstances." (The Age)

I have a big problem with this. This entire statement suggests pre-determinism and an omniscient deity. It also suggests that again putting all your faith in a god, will allow you to shrug off trauma and keep on moving. To suggest that perhaps god planned for a horribly traumatic thing to happen, is rather horrible.

I know that the question of, "if god exists, why is there suffering/evil in the world" troubles a lot of people, but to suggest that your god might have been aware of such evil and suffering about to happen and let it happen anyway, that kind of blind faith is unpalatable. It suggests to me that there is an element of "oh well, they deserved it/they must have done something wrong" which I think sucks. The world is indeed unfair, but the misfortunes of others are not deserved.


One thing many religions are very good at is hypocrisy. We can start with evangelical Christian pastors in the US condemning homosexuality and yet practising it, or being caught practising it. Because nothing spells condemning something you think is wrong like practising it. Here are some amusing blog posts about such things:

Unfortunately I can't find the amazing post I read a few years ago on a Unitarian Universalist website, or affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist church somehow... anyway. The author of this paper (and if someone has a link to it, that'd be lovely) states that the bible talks a whole lot more about looking after the poor than it does condemning homosexuals and that to focus on one act in the bible that is condemned when there are a multitude more passages about caring for the poor than there has been about condemning homosexuality.

Surely the Christian churches should be far more willing to care for poor people and deal with those less fortunate than themselves than to crusade on who has sex with who. Seriously, why is religion even in my bedroom?

People may remember the Leviticus challenge, as reported here, as a good suggestion as to why Leviticus is no longer relevant, and that quoting it to justify any form of homophobia is just silly.

Though apparently there are some churches suggesting that Jesus was actually pro-gay. Given the time in which Jesus lived (the Roman occupation of Israel), it is entirely possible that the Roman authorities he dealt with were homosexual or bisexual. As far as I am aware, Jesus made no comments on homosexuality at all (and yes I have read all the gospels).

A survey conducted by the "Pew Research Centre" and commented on in a CNN report in April 2009, suggested that the more often "Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists", this applied mostly to evangelical protestants. Doesn't that seem wrong to you, the sentiment, not the religious affiliation? Far too often I find that those who claim to be good Christians forget Matthew 7:1-5:

1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

Patriarchal institutions

Penn and Teller recently focussed on the Catholic Church as part of their Bullshit series. Regardless of what religious affiliation you are, especially if you are Catholic, I suggest you watch this and look at the problems therein. If you aren't Catholic, and are Christian I suggest you watch this and see if any of it applies to your church/faith.

Many Christian denominations and many world religious are incredibly patriarchal and often abuse their power over women. Most religions are undemocratic and those who are governed get no say in how their faith is run, and instead are expected to follow the leader/s. Many religions abuse their power over their flocks.

The Catholic Church in Brazil, in March 2009, excommunicated a 9 year old's mother, and the doctors and nurses that performed the necessary abortion of the twins she was carrying, after she was raped by her father... for performing that abortion, regardless of the fact that the doctors advised that as she was so young, she would not survive the pregnancy. The 9 year old girl was judged too young to be excommunicated and the father was not excommunicated for his abuse of his daughter... but abortion is a grave sin and the result is immediate excommunication. This was widely condemned by Brazilian Catholics, the Brazilian Government and many liberals in the rest of the world. Story here.

This story is evidence of not only a massive abuse of power over who can and cannot be members of a certain club, but a massive failure to understand the impact of abuse on individuals, the fact that the world is not black and white (instead MANY shades of grey) and that abusing a child is a far graver sin than aborting two foetuses that would have died with the 9 year old if she had been forced to carry them to term (lets not talk about the bad genetics of incest either). This is a failure to understand that women should be in charge of what happens to their bodies and that to threaten anyone with excommunication if they decide, for whatever reason, that they need an abortion is wrong, especially (as in the case of the Catholic Church) when that organisation is run by a bunch of men who allegedly have never had sex.

The bible

I haven't got a lot to say on the topic of the bible. I know that biblical scholarship suggests that the Old Testament was re-written several times by the Jews as it was relevant to them in their struggle for survival - see Spong's book: The Sins of Scripture for more information.

You do have to admit though, to take the bible literally, for everything, would be a huge task. One guy tried it, and worked really hard. I don't know if I would bother to do such a thing, especially as to live like that involves more effort than I think anyone should put into being faithful.

The bible is full of horrible, horrible things, shipoffools.com conducted a survey on the bad bits of the bible recently that was reported in The Times Online. Lovely versus such as those ordering genocide (1 Samuel 15:3), suggesting that women are beneath men (1 Timothy 2:12) and that rape of your female concubine is ok (Judges 14:20-25). The bible is not a "good" book. The bible is a book of interesting historical stories of a group of ancient people who had to fight to stay alive and retain their identity and of an inspirational man who was misquoted (or written about only by men and their point of view) and another man who was deeply troubled and wrote conflicting letters to different Christian groups around the known world.

Ok, rant over for now. I'm sure I'll think of other things I should write, but since I've been meaning to write this post for 6 months now, its time it was published and my links folder emptied for the next big project.

All comments and thoughts welcomed.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I am NOT a lady

I have never been a lady.

I will never be a lady.

Why do people, mostly men of a certain generation, think its ok to refer to me as a "lady", or to other women as "ladies"(or lady if singular)?

When I was growing up, I'd regularly be told, by my grandmother (and occasionally my mother), "that's not very ladylike", usually referring to climbing trees, wearing shorts, slothing about, running, shouting and generally having fun. Very quickly I equated "ladylike" with "not fun" and went out of my way to avoid "ladylike" things and settle on fun things instead.

So these days, when people refer to me as a "lady" or if I am with a group of women "ladies" it tends to get my back up really quickly. My instant response, which is sometimes bitten back, is "I am not a lady, I am a woman."

Wikipedia, my source of things interesting, doesn't really have much to say on the term lady. It talks about the historical source of the word and how it has been used in a sexist manner "lady doctor" and "lady lawyer" instead of doctor or lawyer... (perhaps woman doctor or female doctor)? Personally I've never been big on identifying the gender of someone undertaking a role, I don't go around saying "my male doctor...", unless it is specifically relevant. "My doctor is pregnant" is clear about the gender of the doctor (unless modern science has suddenly increased the capacity for reproduction), and gender doesn't play a role in how successful someone will be in their career.

I'm not the type of person who talks about a "cleaning lady" even when I'm attempting to identify one in a crowd, people undertaking jobs tend to manage to do so in a genderless way for me, for most jobs. Actors are actors regardless of gender, as are poets, waiters and mayors. However, there are still Policemen and Policewomen (thanks to TV) and Ombudsman (are there Ombudswomen?).

I suppose part of this is based around my own gender identity. I don't see myself as overly feminine and usually instead sitting nicely between the male and female spectrum of behaviour (despite what some others may claim) and gender identity. This does play a role in why I don't like being referred to as a "lady" as I do see that term complete with all the trappings of femininity that I tend to avoid like the plague. However, for all those women that enjoy those things, go ahead and seize "lady" and use it as much as you like, a long way away from me.

So for the handful of people out there who might read this blog... do you have any problems with the term "lady"; what do you do about it; and how did those issues eventuate?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Urm, last time I checked this was MY uterus

Dear father-in-law,

It may have escaped your notice, but we're now living in the 21st century. Women "achieved" equality with men in Australia in the 1970s, contraception became widely available around the same time and religion has been on the decline in Australia since about then, at least. Specifically Christianity, the religion you profess to belong to... well you'd state Catholicism, because you define it all differently.

Anyway, that's kinda besides the point. Lets remember some history here so my comments are more in context. In July 2006 I had an ectopic pregnancy. Now, you seemed to have, at that time, no understanding of what an ectopic pregnancy was, how people can and do die from them, and how close you came to having a widow for a son. I say you have no understanding because you asked, 3 months later if I was pregnant again, "gotten on the horse that threw you" kind of stuff. I was so shocked I didn't knee you in the testicles, though everyone agreed later that I should have.

In May 2007 I got pregnant again and then miscarried. It wasn't as upsetting as the whole ectopic pregnancy thing (funnily enough) and I got over it. I didn't tell you. I didn't tell you because a) it was none of your business and b) I miscarried at 6 weeks, which is incredibly common. If everyone who miscarried at that point told the world, we'd all be upset for them all the time.

In December 2007 you discovered that I had miscarried in May and we had a HUGE blazing row when I told you that I didn't want you to ever talk about me being pregnant again to you... you threw me out of the house... what you don't know is that this was one of the funniest experiences of my entire life. Granted you had had a serious heart attack earlier in December and were emotionally fucked up as a result... hence me not taking your yelling and screaming at me personally. By this stage I was actually over both the miscarriage and the ectopic pregnancy, and was of two minds as to whether or not I'd try again... you certainly didn't help.

In July 2008, when you were down for my grandmother's funeral, and after I mentioned my sisters' children, you ask if I've finally gotten over my two losses. I can't remember what I replied, but as my grandmother had just died, and you'd done me the "favour" of coming ALL this way for her funeral, I decided to not kick you out of my house at that point.

In December 2008 when you came and visited again, you compared my miscarriage to your daughters recent one. I thought that this demonstrated an incredibly lack of tact and understanding on your behalf. Miscarriages are painful things, and people generally want some privacy to grieve and not to have comments made about them.

In April 2009, when we had come up for your 50th wedding anniversary, you told me as I was leaving, that if I wanted any help with getting pregnant that I should speak to your wife who has blessed medallions that are guaranteed to help.

On Saturday, August 2008, ten minutes after arriving in my house for a visit while I had a pile of homework to do for school and your son was in the US for business (and you only gave me 24 hours of notice that you were coming), you ask me, "How's the pregnancy thing going?". My response, "We're not talking about that." Your interpretation, "Oh, so you've given up. I'm sure God has other plans for you."

Thank you God for having other plans for me.

My response, "If God wanted me pregnant, I'd be pregnant by now." Which is a nice way to end a conversation that I didn't want to have anyway. Clearly you'd forgotten the huge blazing row we had had in December 2007, and given that you'd had a heart attack about 4 weeks beforehand, that is entirely possible... but let me remind you of some of the things you said...

"You do realise that any children you have would be MY grandchildren?"
"You can't call me Peter, you can call me Dad or Mr Dominguez"

Lets start with the first one shall we? Any children I have, will be MY children... not yours, not my parent's, not the next door neighbour's, not the church's or anyone but me and its father. If I choose to have children, it will be because I want to have them and any pressure or sense that you think I should have children can take a flying leap into eternity for all I care. Its my body, my reproductive system and I have a right to privacy as far as my reproductive potential goes.

Get your goddamn hands off my uterus.

Oh, and you already have 16 grandchildren. Don't you think that there are sufficient grandchildren there? I certainly think that 16 is overdoing it a bit. I manage to remember all their names, but am not close to any of them, don't buy them presents and am generally a very poor aunt.

Tonight, while we were at dinner, you again hoped that I might have the joy of having a child. Just last night we agreed that I wasn't going to have any children, and then you tell me that you hope I might change my mind and have the joy of a child. When will you just fuck off about this?

Motherhood, by the by, is not what women aim for in life. Well not all women, some really do want to be mothers, and that is their be all and end all in life. However, you should never define a woman by whether or not she's had children. Our discussion of Quentin Bryce, the current Governor General of Australia, should not have, "Ah yes, another fine woman, a mother, a grandmother..." mentioned anywhere in it, unless of course we were talking about her children, which we weren't. Women are more than uteri that have the potential to have children. I am not a lesser woman just because I am not having children. To make me a second class citizen of a class that for the most part can be defined as second class citizens is so very very wrong. I don't begrudge women who have children, but I certainly don't think that they are better than me for having children or define them by the fact that they have had children.

Now, the whole "dad' or "Mr Dominguez" thing. You are NOT my father. You will never be my father and as my father-in-law, you only have a limited right to any of my personal information and no right to cast comment on me or my lifestyle, no matter how much you think you do (oh and only if you knew about my lifestyle... but anyway). You also have never gained my respect, so "Mr Dominguez" is not something that I'll ever call you either. You'll have to manage with "Hey you" and "Peter". I don't care if you don't like either of them, since I don't have any other options and "fuck head" and "dick head" are considered obscenities.

In general I find your conservatism, conspiracy theories, racism, homophobia and religious intolerance impossible to bear. I grit my teeth when I am around you until I get really bad headaches from the jaw tension. Atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, converts, small l liberals, greenies, people of the LBGTIQ spectrum and anyone with a different skin colour to your own is as much a valid human being as you, and as entitled to walk this earth, occupy positions of power and do what they think is best. I find your narrow minded beliefs incredible and do wonder how on earth that thing between your ears that you call a brain functions, because everyone else I know is completely alien to you, even my mother who is more conservative than me.

I find you impossible to deal with, the fact that I can tell you something and two minutes later you've forgotten, because you weren't paying enough attention, irritating. Yes you are deaf, I understand that, I do what I can to make myself heard, but you don't listen to me anyway. I can tell you to turn left at the next roundabout, only to have you, when we get there 2 minutes later, keep driving straight and to act all offended that I hadn't told you, even though you had acknowledged what I said 2 minutes earlier.

Now, I have a splitting headache and need to sleep... and hope that you feel sorry for me in the morning and don't wake me up when you leave.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"The Ten Suggestions or A Royal Law of Love?"

Subject courtesy of the "United Church of God" and a pamphlet they sent me recently. I want to address the whole idea that the 10 Commandments apply to EVERYONE in the WHOLE world. I think it's sheer arrogance... but here is what else the United Church of God has to say on the issue.

Do the Ten Commandments have relevance to our every day life in this hectic and confusing 21st century?

Some people consider them to be only good suggestions, while others may make an attempt to practice some of them. Very few view these commandments for what they really are: the best advice our loving Creator can give us. They are designed to protect us, our families and communities.

Properly understood, these principles not only apply to today's world, but they can also transform the way we think and how we approach the problems and difficulties of life.

Ok, so apparently the 10 Commandments are just as valid now, as when Moses walked down Mt Sinai countless centuries ago... First lets go and find what the 10 Commandments actually are... as biblically stated versus the common understanding of what they are... because biblically there are actually two versions.

The first in the bible is actually from Exodus 20:2-17 (NIV) and the second version is from Deuteronomy 5:6-21 (NIV). There is also a set of 10 Commandments at Exodus 34:11-27, which are completely different to the first Exodus set and Deuteronomy. Wikipedia has usefully outlined the similarities and differences here so that I don't have to. Actually go and read the whole article, I can wait... its interesting.

Ah, you're back... so the 10 Commandments... are they actually still relevant in this day and age? All of these are taken from here which doesn't necessarily tie in with the NIV bible I have in front of me. Where significantly different, I'll comment...

ONE: 'You shall have no other gods before Me.'

Right... clearly this only applies to people who believe in the Christian-Judiac-Islamic God. There is no wiggle room here for Buddhists, Hindus, Confucians (??), Taoists, Atheists... or anyone who isn't Christian, Jewish or Muslim (though the Qu'ran has its own Commandments).

Clearly this fails the modern day understanding of freedom of religion being a human right.

TWO: 'You shall not make for yourself a carved image--any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.'

I think many Christians fail this one... Muslims tend not to create sculpture or paintings of people for it is forbidden, and some Jews also don't have statues or paintings of people for the same reasons.

The actual bible quote refers to creating and worshipping idols, somewhat different to creating images and likeness of stuff. Oh and the original bible verse has God being a vengeful God... hardly the type of image that we want to propagate these days.

4 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.

So, yes this one fails as well. Again assumes a belief in a certain God, and then tells you not to worship other stuff. Something that many people tend to forget... Evangelical Christian right in the US? Hello, can you hear me? Worshipping money and power? Bad people, naughty... big smacks.

THREE: 'You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.'

Oh Jesus Christ! Oops did I just blaspheme? I don't typically say that phrase, but I think that most English speakers these days use, "Oh God" just as freely as they say, "and", "if" and "oops". Again this relies on a belief of a certain God, and for those who don't, clearly doesn't apply.

FOUR: 'Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.'

Which Sabbath day? Exodus goes on to suggest that no one, not the Jews, the slaves, their animals or foreigners are allowed to work on the Sabbath, hence the Orthodox Jews not working on Saturdays, looking for ways to avoid working accidentally... you know by using light switches... I think that its all a little over the top, but that's their choice.

So, back to which Sabbath day... The Jews, the originators of the Old Testament of the Bible say that the Sabbath is Saturday, the last day of the week. Most Christians view Sunday as a holy day because that is when Jesus rose from the dead, and therefore is holy for that reason... the Sabbath moved thanks to Jesus. But Christians may attend a service or mass, but then continue on with the rest of their lives, working or whatever on Sunday... well these days anyway.

I think the Seventh Day Adventists returned the Sabbath to Saturday, but I don't know a lot about them, and haven't researched them, that's a story for another day.

So, again, this requires a particular belief in a particular God, because you're resting on "His" day of rest, so... it fails.

FIVE: 'Honor your father and your mother.'

Not a lot of leeway here. So what about the parent which abuses the child, physically, sexually or emotionally? Should that child honour their parents? I certainly wouldn't suggest so. That's gross betrayal, and certainly not good parenting according to anyone's idea of decent parents. We don't live in the dark ages any more. It'd be nice if the 10 Commandments didn't any more either. This one fails for not considering what happens to the children who are abused.

SIX: 'You shall not murder.'

Yay! One that passes. Apparently Catholic catechism goes one further and states that "You shall not kill... except in cases of capital punishment (though they'd prefer incarceration and rehabilitation) or war (if necessary and for good reasons).

So, standard ethics here... don't kill people because you don't want to live in a society where people could kill you. Killing is bad... m'kay?

SEVEN: 'You shall not commit adultery.'

According to the bible I commit adultery every second week night and every other weekend when I sleep with my other husband. Because men could have multiple wives back in biblical times, women however were the property of their husbands and didn't have the right to have multiple husbands. I'm fighting back against this trend... lets not also mention the bisexuality... that might make the bible writers head explode.

So adultery you reckon... what exactly is adultery?

Thanks to wikepedia (again)

Adultery is the voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and another person who is not that person's spouse. In most cases and especially in Western countries, only the married party is said to have committed adultery, and if both parties are married (but not to each other) then they both commit separate acts of adultery. In other countries, both parties to the adultery are considered guilty, while in others again only the woman is able to commit adultery and to be considered guilty. In some cases it is only considered adultery when a married woman has sexual relations with someone without the permission of her husband.

Right... actually on the basis that modern, so called Christian societies fail this one on a regular basis, I'm thinking of Governor Standford as a beautiful example here, and I'm sure you can think of other so-called Christian and perhaps even Jewish people who have had affairs and recognise that this standard is failed by society in general.

Given that I'm not a practiser of monogamy, can I actually be accused of adultery? If I cheated on my partners, then perhaps I could... I'll let this one pass only if we can redefine adultery to mean "cheating and lying" and then tie it into number 9 below.

EIGHT: 'You shall not steal.'

This one passes too. You don't want to live in a society where people steal your stuff, so you shouldn't steal their stuff. Nice simple ethics.

NINE: 'You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.'

This one passes too. Don't lie, be honest. Not that hard really... I don't care how much you don't like or even like your neighbour... being honest is the right thing to do.

TEN: 'You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's.'

To covet:
1 : to wish for earnestly
2 : to desire (what belongs to another) inordinately or culpably (Merriam Dictionary)

What exactly is wrong with wanting something? I'd love to be as rich as... urm... Bill Gates, minus the tosseriness (and yes that is a word). I'd really like to have so much money that I can sleep on it, rub it all over my body, burn it to keep warm... and not have a care in my life. I don't... but what is wrong with wishing for that?

What is wrong for looking at a neighbour's or relative's house and thinking that I'd like something like that, or some item in that house? Provided I'm not stealing or lying about it, how is this wrong?

This one fails on being illogical. Its good to have dreams and its good to chase them... wishing or desiring an object, a status or lifestyle can provide the impetus to seek out those dreams. I'm all for coveting, so go right ahead.

So in summary, the 10 Commandments are not "A Royal Law of Love" and are not relevant to the 21st century. Lets find some other decent ethics and create a new and interesting moral society... I'm all for moral universalism myself.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Exclusive clubs

Exclusion on any basis tends to annoy me. Always has. The exclusive nature of apartheid in South Africa was probably one of the things that taught me that exclusion was a bad thing. Afterall everyone was saying how bad it was, and South Africa was a pariah among "western" nations... so clearly excluding people on the basis of skin colour was a bad thing. This much I figured out.

I also wasn't a fan of unfairness which wasn't quite exclusion, but was almost. Someone being treated unfairly because of a real or perceived difference by someone else. A beautiful, intelligent and patient Aboriginal girl at my primary school was made to repeat Grade 3 (after finishing Grade 6) because the school did not know what to do with her. Suddenly an 11 year old girl was placed with the 8 year olds. When I spoke to her about it, she said that she would transfer to Yirarra and finish her education there as soon as she could. In a typical 8 year old fashion, I never chased it up nor do I remember if she eventually did.

My parents, well more my mother, was big on fairness, non-discriminatory behaviour and treating people equally regardless of who they were and where they were from. The missionary inspired teachers that taught me in Alice Springs were also big on social justice, and the nuns and brothers of the Sacred Heart in Alice Springs were also big on social justice.

One good thing about my Catholic upbringing, was generally the ability to discuss social justice issues and talk about fairness and justice in general. Certainly more useful in my primary school in Alice Springs versus my secondary schooling in Bendigo.

My mother, in Alice Springs, taught Aboriginal students in the Aboriginal Unit of my Catholic Primary School. She thought that it was exclusionary for those students who had good attendance and who did not need the extra support that the Aboriginal Unit was developed to provide to be kept away from the mainstream educational system. She fought for those students to be included in mainstream schooling and only for those who needed extra support and attention to be in her unit. She had the support of the Parish Priest, but outraged those social conservatives who thought they knew best about what these students needed, and lets face it who were probably consciously or unconsciously racist, to be kept in the Aboriginal Unit. So outraged were they, they started a smear campaign against my mother and the Catholic Priest, suggesting that they were having an affair and were horrible to me and my sisters. Thankfully we left town for unrelated reasons just as this started to get really nasty.

So why this blog post... well I've had some interesting conversations with people about exclusion recently, and read some interesting articles about exclusive clubs and the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission's thoughts on exclusion for clubs. It has been suggested by the Government I believe that exclusions granted to clubs and institutions to discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and the like may actually not be in line with Victoria's Human Rights Charter.

Of course religious groups have complained that the state is interfering with their religious freedom by not letting them discriminate and exclude people whose lifestyles and/or beliefs are not in line with their religions, and Men's clubs in Melbourne are also under attack. Both of these, of course break my heart and bring tears to my eyes... not.

You see... I've rethought exclusion. I have a problem when a powerful group excludes a powerless, or less powerful group.... though there are caveats here. So when white Africaans in South Africa excluded all black people... they were a powerful minority, the same goes for Sunnis in Bahrain excluding the Shia in Bahrain. Its not about the size of the group, just the power that they possess. So a Men's club in Melbourne being under threat by a change of law? Yippee! Force them to live in the modern day and age... and deal with some diversity - because I'd suspect that they're not only a male only club, but they also have "standards" as to who their members can be... so I'm guessing wealthy, mostly white business men.

The same goes for religious groups... and I'm looking mostly at Christian churches here, because that is where my experience is. A group that has spent time persecuting and excluding less powerful members of society or their own less powerful members... they'll suddenly have to employ single mothers, queer folk, divorcees, etc. This cannot be a bad thing, as much as they may sook about it. I'm quite happy that Christian school children will actually have a wider world experience with people from different situations in society. It'd be really nice if there was a way to force the Catholic Church to accept women and married men as priests... but I don't see that happening at this point.

The legislative change also goes for Women's Clubs... which I have a bit more of a problem with, because traditionally women actually have less power, and need safe space to network and generally exercise. I suspect that Women's Clubs will be able to successfully fight for their right to exclude men on the basis that far too many women are harassed and killed in gyms than men (just look at that recent massacre in the US for instance), and that women's clubs are required until women really do have full equality with men .

But what happens when a persecuted minority group, who has their own private club on private land, begins to exlude others? I can understand a lesbian's collective excluding men... and to an extent I can understand them excluding hetrosexual women. But by what token can they exclude bisexual women or even trans-women? Apparently the argument for excluding trans-women is that they were born male and therefore have accessed the privallege that men have... but surely by transitioning to female, they've not only forgone any privallege they may have had (and since when was the queer looking boy at school granted any privallege?) they've also assigned themselves far into "other" territory and are far more discriminated against and excluded than lesbians. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

I guess bisexuals, by their argument, have the best of both worlds, spend time passing as hetrosexual or something. This is not an issue which I have spoken to any radical lesbians about, I just participated in a conversation with someone who is bisexual who was aware of this conundrum.

An ideal world is one where people are recognised for the intrinsic value they possess and the unique gifts they bring into the world. A world where gender, sexuality, relationship status and skin colour aren't even noticed.

Doctor Who - The Doctor Dances [2005]
Captain Jack Harkness: I've gotten to know Algy quite well since I've been in town. Trust me, you're not his type. I'll distract him. Don't wait up.

The Doctor: Relax. He's a fifty-first century guy. He's just a bit more flexible when it comes to 'dancing'.

Rose Tyler: How flexible?

The Doctor: Well, by his time, you lot are spread out across half the galaxy.

Rose Tyler: Meaning?

The Doctor: So many species, so little time.

Rose Tyler: What, that's what we do when we get out there? That's our mission? We seek new life and...


Rose Tyler: and...

The Doctor: [nodding] Dance.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

PETA annoy me

I'm not against the ethical treatment of animals, I think that PETA has done some sterling work in relation to having people think about the ways animals react to things and considering them as beings versus objects and this isn't a bad thing. However, I do object to PETA's demand that Australian farmers stop mulesing their sheep and their critique of Sam Neil and his support of the meat industry.

Lets start with mulesing. PETA state that it's "cruel and painful and that more humane alternatives exist" (wikipedia), without actually stating what "more humane" alternatives there are... you know being useful instead of just condemning. It would be nice if they decided to research said humane alternatives and provide a response instead of getting businesses to boycott Australian wool for our alleged cruel practices.

The Wikipedia article linked to above has a good summary of the debate and what is being done where. If you want more education on the whole debate, that's not a bad place to start.

I don't know if PETA have actually seen a sheep with flystrike, but my mother cared for one a couple of years ago, and what she described sounds far worse than mulesing. She told me that the sheep looked like it was walking mince meat... it was in obvious pain and midway through the infestation was unable to walk and barely able to feed itself. It eventually healed thanks to both my parents care and is now a healthy sheep... but is it crueller to provide short-term pain (much like a vaccination) or let an animal (or person) suffer the consequences of an infestation/disease because the short-term pain is considered cruel?

Now Sam Neil. You can see his long term involvement with the meat industry here, here, here, and here. Some of them are funny, go and see.... this post can wait. He also did, though barely recognisable, an ad for vegetarian food, suggesting that vegetarianism is the next step in human evolution. Clearly Sam Neil also has bills to pay.

Anyway... What annoyed me about PETA's commentary on Sam Neil's personal decision to be, or not to be, involved in an ad campaign was their language and assumptions. Firstly they banter around the word "Jurassic" because he was in the movies... failing completely to realise that the Jurassic period had no ape like ancestors around at the time, and that all the mammals at that time were small rat-racoon like things (evolution of mammals here and human evolution here). The first primates, our ancestors, appeared about the same time that dinosaurs died out.

Of course PETA could be suggesting that meat eating is a dinosaur thing... but really most of the mammals around at that time would have been insectivores. And Sam Neil is right, well the script writer for the ads that Sam appeared in, is right. Without eating meat, it is unlikely that we'd be the species we are today. Whether we consume too much meat or not is another issue... and one I'll address shortly.

The whole "Meat: It's What's Rotting in Your Colon" myth that PETA continue to push, without any medical citations also annoys me. Snopes have a good commentary on that here, but lets just think about the whole claim logically. I eat meat... I have various digestive issues that relate to fructose malabsorption and the fact that I have had my gall bladder removed recently, so I also have what is called an enzyme dump, which will rectify itself in time. On that basis, my colon is often spasming due the laxative effect of the fructose and enzymes... on the days that it is not, I certainly don't notice the horrible effects of meat rotting in my colon. I live with two other people, and I don't notice any horrible effects of meat rotting in their colon... and given what road kill smells like, surely my house would smell the same if meat was rotting in anyone's colon here.

Oddly enough its actually very hard to dig up enough information about the veracity of the claim that red meat (or any meat) rots in your colon. The internet is full of people with opinions and agendas to push (hello there) and so there are doctors who are devoutly religious who have vegetarian agendas to push, PETA with their agenda to push, misinformation and other stuff... This site suggests that meat can take some days to digest, depending on your individual circumstances.

Wikipedia (and here) doesn't suggest that meat sits in the digestive system for days, and as its the most reliable source of information I can find at the moment, I'm going with them.

Now, if PETA had gone down a sensible path... suggesting, for example, that farming animals is bad for the environment, uses too much water and produces large amounts of Greenhouse gas, as the WhyVeg.com people have leaned to, then they'd be more credible about the whole thing. If they'd run with, "abattoirs are horrible places and animals suffer terribly in them AND meat eating is terribly bad for the environment" I probably wouldn't be so annoyed with them.

In the end, I personally recommend eating less meat... don't eat it every day, exist on less, eat more vegetables and fruit than meat, etc. The current editorial thing on WhyVeg.com advocates that, and that is a far more successful message... tap into the growing green consciousness and welfare of animals versus scoring cheap political points.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Why Conservatism is bad for women's rights (and rights of other minority groups)

I read over the weekend an article by a very "enlightened" Australian politician, Tony Abbott, a big "C" conservative and a big "L" Liberal. Not my favourite man. Apparently he's just written a book, as part of his "grieving" process of being a member of a political party that lost the last election to an unworthy opponent, and not having the power he once had.

His book talks about the "coming out" of Conservatism, and how a return to "traditional family values" is an important thing. Given, he says, that gay people are likely to get the right to marry in the near future, perhaps adding extra options to heterosexual marriage will continue to make it all special.

He advocates reintroducing "fault based" divorce. This went out of fashion, and law in Australia around the same time I was born (1975). The fault based divorce laws provided only 14 grounds for divorce and placed the burden of proof back on the couples. It was widely seen as unfair and although conservatives and religious groups alike were horrified when it was abandoned to a faultless system in 1975, however society did not crumble and the world did not end.

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1959 provided 14 grounds for the grant of a decree of dissolution of marriage ('divorce'), including adultery, desertion, cruelty, habitual drunkenness, imprisonment and insanity. To succeed on one of these grounds, a spouse had to prove marital fault (sourced from here). This meant that individuals had to hire lawyers, private detectives, seek witness statements and prove one of the grounds. If the judge believed that the evidence was fabricated, then he (because they were mainly men at that time) could refuse to allow a divorce.

So, imagine being a victim of domestic violence trying to obtain a divorce at that time, or if the laws are reintroduced for people to voluntarily sign into, imagine trying to obtain one. If the judge doesn't believe that you have been subject to "cruelty", if you were unable to prove the violence because it was psychological versus physical, you may not be able to obtain a divorce. Is this a fair and reasonable thing?

The big problem with this style of conservative thinking, and "traditional family values" is that it places women in society at a lesser place than the men. Women are typically more likely to become victims of domestic violence than men (I am not denying that men are not victims of domestic violence), so if it harder for women to obtain a divorce from a violent marriage, then that's hardly fair and surely not part of what people would think that "traditional family values" are.

Another big problem of course is the fact that conservative political parties and religions talk about "traditional family values" and don't define the phrase... because we all magically know what it is. Of course, "traditional family values", how silly of me. Do they mean, as I suspect they do, that children are raised (and you will have children, because without them you are not a family) by both mum and dad, living in some lovely house in suburbia, with their 1950s style decorated house, where mum cooks dinner for everyone every day, keeps the house clean and always listens to her husband complain about work at the end of the day? Probably.... but the 1950s were not the Golden Age that some current politicians and religious leaders believe them to be. There were things that really worked in the 1950s, and there were many things that didn't.

If we turned back the clocks to 1950 we'd lose our lovely air-conditioned and heated homes, wonderfully diverse range of restaurants, and our lovely multicultural society. These are things I value, I enjoy being able to select a cuisine from just about anywhere in the world and be able to find it and share it with family and friends, I love getting to know people from all around the world and sharing thoughts and ideas with them. I enjoy being environmentally aware and trying to be active about things I care about. I don't fit the 1950s mould and never would... and society today would not want to give up their freedoms that they have gained and created since then.

But if somehow conservative groups did turn back the clock, it'd go badly for women and other minority groups. Since the 1950s women gained better access to workplaces, anti-discrimination laws came into place, Australian Aboriginals were recognised as Australian citizens and were given the right to vote, the White Australia policy was repealed as draconian and stupid (perhaps my words), multiculturalism generally began to work, and despite some things like the Cronulla Riots, generally does work in Australia, and queer people began to live openly and without fear.

Despite all the gains that women and other minority groups have made over the last 50 years, there are those that still want to imagine that the 1950s exist. Just read this blog post as evidence that some people view "a good wife" as a doormat for her husband.

Lets not turn back the clock, lets actually look at preserving rights that we currently have and creating new ones if we actually need them. Lets recognise what rights minorities in our society need to feel safe and participate fully, instead of creating a slippery slope where they may lose rights because of some dream of a Golden Age that never existed in reality.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Darryl Cunningham Investigates: Darkness

Darryl Cunningham Investigates: Darkness

This is an awesome comic about depression and how it works. Having lived with James's depression, I highly recommend reading it and understanding what clinical depression is like.