Tag Archives: nonsense

My Final Contribution to Woroni

In light of the recent mainstream media interest  in one of our little pasquinades (including from some people one doesn’t necessarily want on one’s side), I’ve decided to publish here my final contribution to Woroni, which was actually a letter to the editors responding to some of the complaints and criticisms we received for the piece. Views are my own and not necessarily those of my co-authors, the editors, or God.

Dear Woroni,

I won’t make any comments about freedom of the press or censorship: they’re issues for the editors. I want to respond to criticisms of the piece and explain why I think it’s right to respect people, but not their religion.

The Koran mentions houris: large bosomed virgins who are apparently a reward in paradise (55:56, 56:22, 78:33). Admittedly, the phrase “rape fantasies” may be going too far in describing the enticement of these figments, but the houris are surely for sexual gratification, otherwise why would The Koran’s authors emphasise their sexual characteristics and the fact that they have “not been touched by other men or jinns”? And what do women get in paradise? Unmentioned male equivalents? Are only lesbian women gratified in paradise? Do women even get to paradise? Exactly what are jinns? These speculations can be dismissed as absurd, but only if the idea of the inerrancy of The Koran is as well.

The Islam piece was not our best work but it wasn’t racist or about discriminating against minorities; rather it was about that ever present discrimination against one half of humanity in the form of misogyny and how misogyny is present in The Koran. Some will say that interpreting The Koran is a mistake and solely the purview of Muslim clerics or scholars of Islam. But I think that discouraging ordinary people from critically reading and interpreting a book which purports to tell over a billion people how to live, is a mistake. I encourage people to read The Koran for themselves and to decide whether the explicit and implicit derogations of women therein, which are not satirical but earnest, are more or less offensive than what we’ve written (not to mention passages extolling atrocities, anti-semitism, homophobia, etc. — 2:191, 3:10, 4:91 8:67, 10:13, 16:26, 17:17, 17:58, 18:58, 19:98, 21:6, 21:17, 22:45, 26:120, 28:58, 33:64, 36:31, 37:136, 38:3, 38:33, 42:34, 46:27, 54:34, 54:51, 71:26, 77:16, 91:15; 5:65, 7:166, 16:118; 4:16, 26:166, 27:56, 29:28; and countless passages threatening eternal torture for anyone who doesn’t believe).

But the most important point is that people are blithely using things that don’t exist to influence and affect a reality that does. I think that’s fine for important abstract concepts, but not for imagined beings, the fabricated orders of whom people cite when telling us what we can and can’t do. When a second-hand reproduction of an oral story, of dubious veracity, from over a thousand years ago is used as a justification for being sexist towards women here and now — well, that idea is not only open to criticism, but is almost ostentatiously asking for it.

Although it’s highly unsettling and confronting for believers to have their faith mocked, that is not a reason to have a special standard for established religions that we would never conscience for any secular group, political party or new religious movement. And while some may argue that it’s arrogant to presume other people’s beliefs are misguided, I think it’s disastrous to concede that people should never have their beliefs challenged. It’s also hugely condescending to assume that other people are so fragile that they can’t handle an opposing view. To say that Muslims, Christians or Hindus can’t cope with subtle or blunt refutations of their beliefs, is a calumny against humanity and people’s innate talent for thinking.

I find myself slightly at variance here with popular opinion, so naturally I’ve questioned my own immensely fallible thoughts on this matter and reread parts of The Koran. But I can’t seem to get away from the superseding problem posed by all religions and totalitarian ideologies of all kinds, namely their professed infallibility. “This book is not to be doubted” — this phrase of doubtful virtue opens The Koran. My favourite thinker, Jacob Bronowski, was surely more accurate when he said, “There is no absolute knowledge. And those who claim it, whether they are scientists or dogmatists, open the door to tragedy.”

I’ve decided to make this my last contribution to Woroni. Over the years I’ve had loads of fun and met many brilliant people. Thanks to all of my editors and collaborators and to the literally several readers who have kindly said they enjoyed my stuff.

Jamie Freestone

This letter was published in Woroni on May 16th 2013.

hasa diga eebowai

My Own Prophecy for December 2012

when-prophecy-failsThe great thing about end of the world predictions is that they’re always wrong. In fact, 100% of them have been so far. Of course, as soon as one is correct that will greatly change the state of affairs. Nonetheless, one prediction I always make ahead of end of the world predictions is that once it doesn’t come to pass, the millenarians will revise their prediction, saying they miscalculated the date. Despite the general lack of predictive power of most of social science, it’s one of the few aspects of the future we can predict with near certainty.

There was a famous study in the ’50s of a doomsday cult called When Prophecy Fails. It’s germane to the current dross being cycled out by harmless hippies and credulous conspiracy theorists. The study examines how people’s beliefs are actually redoubled in the event of a disconfirmed prophecy because of cognitive dissonance and wanting to save face. It’s a cool study of additional interest because it happened to take place when Scientology was considered the bizarre, mainly benign, nonsense-based cult that it is.

I recommend checking the book out as a balm when you hear things on the news like, “If the Mayan calendar is correct…” — the opening of a sentence which presages not the end of the world, but the just as frequently prophesied death of journalism.

Letter From Planet Earth: Epistemology

Dear Gzorgax

So the other day I saw an interview with a very kindly, warm-hearted woman who claimed to have survived inoperable cancer by praying to Mary Mackillop: a long dead Earthling organism whose remains are now presumably so decomposed that barely a fragment of what was previously her living self remains and therefore one of the least qualified people to do anything to affect another person’s biological health.

You might be wondering what help or counselling we are offering this clearly harmless, but delusional or stupid lady who believes in such, as it were, rot. None. In fact, the interviewer didn’t question her extraordinary claim at all. You might further wonder why the remainder of the news program and the remainder of the news week weren’t devoted to this extraordinary discovery of several magical processes which invalidate most of the claims about the universe on which you and I base our actions every day.

Well, Gzorgax, on our planet we have an interesting relationship to knowledge about the world, which I’ll try and outline as simply as I can. When knowledge is very well established, through experiment, data collection, peer-review, etc., like the claim that the Earth is getting warmer owing to post-industrial age human activity, we approach with incredulity. In fact in such cases of near unanimity of opinion among the very people who have learnt the most about the topic, we make sure to give equal credence to dissenting, ill-informed voices, in some bizarre obeisance to favouring even pathological scepticism. Which is fine I guess.

But we relax a little bit when talking about something where there is some written, historical record of events, intermingled with obvious confabulation. Take, say, Islam, which is a system of belief founded by a middle ages warlord who shagged a nine year old girl and who claimed to speak regularly to a god no one else could hear or was even allowed to claim to be able to hear, lest they be slaughtered by armies of that selfsame child-statutory-rapist. In such cases we challenge adherents only when they go too far and actually put their beliefs into practice by killing non-believers.

The least amount of scepticism is reserved for those who profess to believe in stories of creation which aren’t even written down and based on historical record, but are instead oral traditions of indigenous peoples. In such cases, because of a mix of condescension, respect and guilt for wrecked cultures, we generally don’t judge these claims at all, despite their obvious status as sub-standard fairy tales rather than coherent ontologies.

You might be worried that our civilisation is on the verge of collapse because we employ this reverse burden of proof for claims based on an inverse relationship to how much evidence the claimant can furnish. But luckily we have a failsafe called “hypocrisy” which means that people don’t actually believe any of this fluff and live their lives as if we live in a causal universe based on scientific laws and not mumbojumbo. So even while they’re praying, they still see their doctors and take their medicine.

Yours earthily,


This article originally appeared in Woroni in 2012.

You Can’t Review That: The Bible

If you enjoy incest, then you’ll love the early passages in this work. They describe a group of people who continually resort to the practice when they make the mistake of not having female children, or when the women they do have idiotically turn around to look at burning cities and get themselves transmogrified into pillars of salt.

Overlong and open to interpretation, this work is wildly popular, despite some stylistic quirks. We are told that the book is the word of “God”, the author, who employs multiple narrators to tell the story, but gets into a bizarre Charlie Kaufman-esque situation in which he writes himself in to his own narrative. The Bible seems to be one of those postmodern novels that was popular in the 1970s, but this meta-fictional approach gets particularly tiresome when a new character, Jesus, is introduced and is alternately referred to as the son of God, the Son of Man, a man and God himself.

The climax is a bizarre sequence wherein this schizoid but hitherto kindly character judges the rest of the characters (and indeed everyone) as some kind of proxy for the author. Jesus’s earlier, touching act of self-sacrifice and his message of love, seem somewhat incongruous with the appalling bloodbath that follows the judgement.

Contra the “love-thy-enemy” message he propagated earlier, Jesus unveils the fact that he actually wants to kill and torture everyone who has not sworn allegiance to him. The moral dodginess of doing this to people who have never even heard of him, let alone embraced him, is thankfully overshadowed by the enthralling symbolism and rich imagery of beasts, trumpets, fire, gold, horsemen, falling stars and brimstone which accompany the inauguration of the book’s final conceit: the New Jerusalem, whatever that is.

The sex scene, Song of Songs, was actually very good and the bit on prohibitions, Leviticus, was hilarious; in fact, overall it’s well written and profound, but thematically inconsistent. More concise than the Mahabharata, three stars.

This article originally appeared in Woroni in 2011.