Tag Archives: religion

#52 On reasons for selection

Dear Jamie

Damn it man all I wanted was an exact explanation of the hierarchy of value boiled down into a sentence or two. What good are you?

I’d like to sully your thinking by forcing it into categories. Here’s what I have. It seems like there are four reasons to explain why a work has currency now. Firstly, what’s said and/or what’s interpreted has Continue reading #52 On reasons for selection

I blame the victim blamers

Don’t blame the victim and don’t blame the perpetrator.

I call out victim blaming wherever I see it. Obviously in rape culture the phrase denotes people who offer reasons that women should expect to be raped (what they’re wearing, what time they walk home, whether they were flirtatious, etcecrable). Then it pops up in something like the Adam Goodes affair where people are like, “Well I agree with him but he goes about spreading his opinion the wrong way” as though he was asking for racist treatment by being too forthright in pointing out, well, racism. And then — I might lose a few here — the victim blaming that occurs when cartoonists get shot for drawing cartoons. “They shouldn’t have provoked extremists, the cartoons were racist, it wasn’t even satire, I’m not even a person I’m just this sentence, etc.we did a whole thing on it. Or there are the African-American victims of police brutality who were urged to be more respectful to the police officers who beat the shit out of them. Continue reading I blame the victim blamers

SEASON 2, 2015 – Foreword

The fact that some satirists were murdered for drawing cartoons about Islam had a particular resonance for us: some of you might know why. Shockingly, a fair fraction of commentators and satirists themselves started to look at satire as the root cause of the tragedy. We immersed ourselves in all the arguments and decided nothing short of a re-boot of our old article series Perlustrating Asseverations would be in order to debunk this bunk or, at least poke some fun while both sides play cat and mouse over the tragedy. PA is a deliberately wordy series with a name that readers don’t understand and a method of deduction the authors can’t comprehend. And it’s all under the banner of a satire of people’s non-satirical condemnation of satire. Simple.

÷Now, join us as we throw straw men down slippery slopes onto truth-bombs and hope they don’t blow up in our face.

NB These posts were all written well before the more recent attacks in Paris and our publication date reflects our dilatory workflow, not our opportunism.

PA: Charlie Hebdo — Nothing to do with religion

÷ Religion had nothing to do with the Paris attacks ÷

A commonly issued qualification following the IS beheadings and the Paris attacks was that they were not about religion. President Hollande, for example, said of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Kosher supermarket: “These attacks have nothing to do with Islam.” The warning is presumably an admirable example at trying to militate against xenophobic or bigoted reactions to the crimes. Based on past experience, such fears are clearly warranted, especially in France — but is the statement actually true?

The public debate surrounding the above incident displays a fishy mix of attributions of motive, such that the original offence taken by the gunmen was religiously motivated, whereas their dispensation of vengeance was not. Thus it seems that religion was present as a motivating factor on both sides of the incident (cartoonists and gunmen) until the moment of shooting, just as the gunmen were yelling: “God is great!”. Translation errors aside, this statement contains a strong religious overtone, but it is at this point that God left the scene and was replaced by an atheistic ideology. Then, in the aftermath, God returned in a veritable parousia of blame, as the defining feature of the group being targeted by bigotry i.e., devout Muslims.

Others say that it’s not really a religion that these attackers have, it’s an ideology and they are under its sway. A reading of the ideology in question reveals that it has the following features: belief in an afterlife, a deity, a prophet, a set of moralistic preachings, a demand for others to comply, an apocalyptic vision of the future, a warrant for killing non-believers, a holy text and a mission of bringing about an Islamic religious state, the Caliphate. Despite the scent of religion in these elements, the ideology is still defined as secular. Perhaps this is an inversion of the familiar case of Catholics in Western countries, whose lives are exclusively composed of secular elements but who nevertheless insist their lives are, according to census forms, religious.

Some commentators also claim that we wouldn’t blame religion if the attackers were not Muslims, but of some other faith. We can test this case by substituting in another religion to see if there is some inconsistency. If a Christian went on a rampage and killed people in the name of God, and indeed said he was doing it in the name of Dog, would we say it was religiously motivated? It’s an interesting hypothetical and for it we would need an example of Christians undertaking some kind of violent crusade against non-believers or believers in rival sects. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Reformation (see Foxe’s Book of Martyrs), conflict in Northern Ireland, massacres in the former Yugoslavia, or indeed Buddhist violence in Burma, the Sikh violence in India, or the self-inflicted violence of the Heaven’s Gate cult —  are any of these violent episodes standardly attributed to religion? What about The Wars of Religion of the 16th and 17 centuries? Were they about religion?

A weaker version of the hypothesis is that the attacks are not only about religion. Many scholars, after decades of theological studies, believe that religions are not separable as a cause of strife and violence. A proponent of this view, Reza Aslan, defends it by saying that he doesn’t feel prominent public atheists are qualified to talk about religion, because they have not studied theology to the doctoral level that he has. Such a proposition also implies that 99% of the world’s faithful are also debarred from the privilege of talking about their own religion and Aslan is debarred from talking about the 99% of topics on which he doesn’t have a PhD; such ideas lead to absurd logical conclusions redolent of the very stuff of this column, but do at least confirm Wittgenstein’s notion that even if a lion could speak, we wouldn’t understand him.

If we think that religion is a shroud for the actual causes of events, then we also need to be sceptical of other actions taken, allegedly in the name of religion, such as praying in a church or mosque. The same degree of incredulity should be levelled at anyone attempting to depict the Prophet Muhammad — is it really about religion? Possibly not. Is this satire of satires about religion, about religion?

Ultimately we find something attractive in not attributing the cause of anything to religion, as it leads to the inescapable deduction that religion was not the cause of Muhammad dictating the The Quran÷ and the ultimate conclusion that God cannot have caused the world to exist: atheistic pronouncements that, ironically, would anger religiously motivated extremists — if there were any.

Ye be judged

It’s both impossible and stupid to not judge others. This is too obvious for words, except that I repeatedly find myself being accused1)Somewhat judgementally. of “judging people” as though it were the supreme wrong. But to do otherwise would be to sleepwalk through the world. Continue reading Ye be judged


1. Somewhat judgementally.

Islamophobic? Maybe

There is a significant overlap between those who criticise Islam and those who have a cultural fear of Middle Eastern Muslim migrants. The latter is surely what people mean when they speak of Islamophobia: a crude, xenophobic attitude towards people who wear Middle Eastern clothes, eat foods containing a lot of cumin, pray facing the same way and often the men have beards and the women wear headscarves! This kind of stupid fear of foreigners is all too familiar in my country, recent examples of which include our disgraceful attitude towards asylum seekers from the Middle East (including from countries we’d invaded), the 2005 race riot in Sydney and hysterical opposition towards the building of mosques. Similar reactions to migrants from North Africa and the Middle East are of course even more familiar to Europeans.

Unfortunately for the pure-hearted critic of religion, it’s very hard to disentangle one’s invective against the obvious inhumanity of certain preachings contained in The Quran, from the ugly dislike that many white Westerners (secular, Christian, or other) have of recent Muslim migrants. Continue reading Islamophobic? Maybe

What’s the worst that could happen?

Well, thinking in quantitative terms, maybe we can actually figure out the literal worst thing that could happen. First, assuming that each person can experience some pretty bad stuff, on a continuum of awfulness, then how about we just calculate the worst thing a single person can experience and scale it up to everyone. Ever. Continue reading What’s the worst that could happen?

Jamie’s graduation speech

I was given the chance — surprisingly — to give the student speech at my graduation ceremony on the 20th of December. I submitted a version of my speech for approval but couldn’t miss the opportunity to make some additional remarks on the day. I gave a plug for divesting from fossil fuels and I also thought it was worth mentioning the appalling decision by the ANU to threaten me and some other students with disciplinary action for a satirical piece in Woroni earlier in the year (see my final contribution to Woroni or just Google any combo of: ANU, Islam, censorship, Koran, Woroni, rape fantasies). My themes, were two of my favourites: scepticism and self-reference.

Below is the text of my speech (roughly accurate, I made some off the cuff changes too): Continue reading Jamie’s graduation speech