The religious martyr east-west divide

If you aren’t prepared to die for what you believe in, you don’t deserve to live

In the mid 1980’s on a school field trip from Chilliwack, a rural community, to Vancouver, the comparative Big City, I saw those words were hand lettered in white on the back of a denim jacket worn by a punk rocker.

Most of the other teens – the school was primarily cliques of head bangers and goody two show kids – on the field trip, made ooo and ahhh cat calls in complete non-comprehension and likely more to do with the fact of the young man being a punk rocker than the sentiment on his back.  I sat frozen, looking at the words and absorbing them very deeply. When you’re a teenager, everything feels epic, life and death, but you don’t really have a sense of what those concepts really mean. Or what if anything, you believe in, never mind what would be worth dying for. Dying was for old people; except….. my favorite movie at that time, was TAPS, starring Tim Hutton and pre-Ridgemont High Sean Penn and introducing Tom Cruise as three military students who lead a student revolt against the closure of their school – to disastrous and predictable conclusion of romanticizing the death of youths for a cause greater than oneself.

This idea of martyrdom continues to hold sway, people who die for religion are made into saints, religions demand sacrifice of supporters and promise eternal afterlife rewards for those who die in service or at least, when taking out the enemies of religion.

In American, religious zealots are less willing to die themselves but are often fairly open to taking out those who they see as betrayers or enemies – shooting abortion doctors right inside their own community church if need be. The American zealots tend to prefer to live to kill more another day, but when they do end up dying, it’s more likely suicide by cop during a shooting event than taking their own life. Suicide being a sin for which you burn in hell, and apparently this is not balanced against the good of protecting the unborn by the murder of a medical doctor.

As if forcing a police officer into killing you is somehow different than doing it yourself….. might as well take up extreme sports as the avoid hell loophole to suicide and not traumatize another person.

Whereas, Islamic zealots are more the hands on martyrs, strapping on a bomb belt and detonating in the crowd – even though sometimes, they only manage to take out themselves – we have to give them kudos for being fully committed in a way that makes North American Zealots look like they are phoning it in.

Not that there’s anything remotely admirable about being a martyr or, for that matter a criminal. The admiration in American culture for the gunslingers, mobsters, gangsters, outlaw bikers and gangstas is on the same wavelength as admiration for saints and martyrs. They are all the same spectrum of rule breaking outsider who’s become romanticized in pulp fiction, movies and video games.

They are an archetype that fulfills the fantasy of rule breaking freedom, being the law unto yourself, to be the power or to be the one fighting the power. The reality is far short of the fantasy.

Criminals are no different than businessmen, they are in it for the prestige and the cash, the power and influence, one through force and the other through cunning. Their respective criminality and anti-social behavior is only limited by the scope of their reach – and businessmen have a far greater reach than criminals – organized or otherwise – as businessmen who put stockholders above employees, customers, financial institutions and the environment do far more damage to society than the most violent of criminals can hope to.

Criminals, be they in legitimate or underground business, are related to the zealot martyrs, in that they often feel entitled by a higher call or by some quirk of birth or force of personality, to be above or beyond the rules that apply to mortal and lesser men. To be rule makers unto themselves.

Hmmm, putting it that way – the dictator/politicians, criminal/business, outlaws and zealots are really the same spectrum of anti-social disorders. Especially with the recent revelation that many if not most American Republicans believe that they are called by god to run for office and that dictators assure their populaces that they are themselves divine – but never in a fun campy way, always the creepy religious way.

To some degree, the mentality of “live fast, die young” explains the willingness of criminals to accept life as brutal and short, to live and die in service of the gang or larger community, is no different than a person who is a religious martyr, who either dies as part of an assault on their religious foes or in self-sacrifice in self-immolation as a form of protest.

Western secular zealots are less self-sacrificing than their eastern counterparts generally, again, preferring to not be caught or to be killed by police or by the state after a media saturated trial. The most horrifying fate for the western murderous zealot would be to be caught and endure life in obscurity and prison; without even a made for TV movie to explain their crusade.

Perhaps if we could understand the nuance between a zealot willing to self-sacrifice and one who is only willing to sacrifice others, we could identify the thought process that allows a person to sacrifice life in the name of ideology.

The willingness to die for causes has traditionally been thought linked to the degree of economic participation and freedoms one had in their respective society.

For bigoted reasons, the 9/11 hijackers changed this idea – suicide bombers where thought of as disaffected, disengaged young men – but the 9/11 hijackers were middle aged, married and many with children and professional career credentials. Most of them were engineers by training and trade. The increase in female suicide bombers also flies in the face of convention.

I say for bigoted reasons, because Timothy McVeigh was middle class and employed and he looked and could have been anyone. Homespun terrorists hit too close to home to analyze perhaps, much easier to hand wring and wonder about the truth when we don’t have to examine ourselves too closely.

People are something in between herd and pack animals – we like just enough structure to provide a consistent and stable framework, but we also like our individuality and some freedom from restrictive social roles (gender or socio-economic). Collectively, anyway, some people reveal in anarchy and others rejoice in rigidity. To each their own comfort level, but most of us in the middle spectrum like these two extremes in some balance or variability – it maintains our illusion of not only freedom, but free will.

Aside: Here’s a terrible thought, what if the only true expression of free will is choosing to die?

It all comes down to what do you value, or, as the punk rocker wrote, what you believe in.

Do you believe in yourself or do you only credit you with value when you are in service or attached to something bigger?

I think that if you are not enough to assign value to, you have no option but to glom onto something bigger, be it religion, politics, sub-culture, anti-culture or social movement. But, by casting yourself in a supporting role, you become vulnerable to exploitation by people who have no problem with their own self worth and often will fall prey to people with the opposite problem – those who value themselves as better than everyone else.

Leaders of movements have dupes, pawns, toadies, hangers on, minions and disaffected fanatics to do the sacrificing.

It’s never the leaders of any movement who self-immolate or strap on a bomb belt – when the leaders of a movement die, it’s usually a result of either their own over-indulgence with drugs/alcohol or in a doomsday cult mass murder/suicide when the legal authorities come knocking and blaring music and blazing gunfire.

It doesn’t matter how much education or professional accreditation or career accomplishments or families one has, without self-worth, there can be no value or worth inherent in these accomplishments and connections. Without valuing yourself, you have no value to transfer or put into accomplishments or connections; and instead, seek external validation to convey worth and value to your person.

It seems to me, that in addition to fluoride to compensate for the state of dental hygiene, that the government may wish to add anti-depressants to the water. Except that governments of any kind prefer a compliant and only marginally disaffected population who feels bad enough to console themselves through shopping therapy, but not bad enough to get out and vote or revolt.

We find meaning and purpose when we are connected to other people, to the community and we can economically participate and contribute to the world. But this cannot be our only source of value – we have to value ourselves in order for other people to value our contributions and to value ourselves.

Individuals are the basic part that make up the larger blocks of family, friends, colleagues (packs), demographic groups (herds), and segments of society (hives). We are the parts that form the sum, and must in turn, be enhanced as a part by the resultant sum. It is not enough that we contribute, but our contribution must be honored and recognized uniquely.

By us being a part and merely feeding the machine without recognition and enhancement, without that feedback  balance, it is little wonder then, that maladaptive and anti-social behaviours emerge, and eventually, bites the hand that has stopped feeding them.

God’s Toadies

Religious believers are a curious bunch who spend a lot of energy propping up their beliefs with word games, fallacious logic and outright cognitive dissonance in their rejection of reality.


Believers assert that prayer works and that all prayers are answered, but sometimes (imagine sad face here), sometimes the answer is no.


So a god who is capable of poofing the universe into existence and requires no cause for itself, is going to consistently respond with a “no” to the prayers of starving children, cancer ridden children, amputees and paraplegics?  This all powerful god is going to say “no” to abducted children being tortured and raped for years or just for a while before they are murdered and left in a shallow grave? “No” to the altar boys?


Is god too busy saying “yes” to sports teams? “Yes” to companies that produce the tools of war, “yes” to young and able bodied men and women to enter the field of battle only to be removed in whole or in parts in body bags?


Yet believers ask that us non-believers accept that their god is good and kind and loving and always answers prayers and then don’t bother to downplay that failing to accept and worship – and correctly, mind you, the correct kind that the particular believer does, not how believers of the 38,000 other versions of Christianity and let’s not mention other religions at all worship – failure to worship means eternal hell and torment.


At this juncture, it is difficult to discern if the believer’s face is damp with tears of despair over your hell fate or drool of anticipation, since, after all, heaven is an exclusive club and it’s not fun having eternal bliss unless others are not merely denied said bliss, but are actively tortured.


I do wonder though, given the exquisiteness of that very fine line between pleasure and pain, that heaven and hell couldn’t been seen as one and the same – after a time, bliss would become mind boggling boring, torturous even and after a time, pain levels off and becomes manageable, in order to understand either, you have to switch between them; you can’t really identify a thing in isolation of all other factors, pleasure and pain are best understood in conjunction or alternating, and eventually, they are indistinguishable.


So, the Abrahamic god is either non-existent, in which case, the world is as we expect it to be and prayers are meaningless.


Or the Abrahamic god exists but is callous, disinterest at best or cruel, vainglorious and evil at worst, in which case, prayers are ignored or answered no, and again, the world is as we expect it to be but prayers to such a deity are pointless.


Or the Abrahamic god exists but is a confused, demented, absent minded, in which case, most prayers are ignored or answered no and the handful that are answered with a yes are of such small impact with such a low bar for attainment, as to be meaningless – because winning a sports game versus thousands of children dying from malnutrition every day – that’s a god who can’t prioritize or is – well – makes sense if god’s a cat god and we’re just it’s playthings.


In any event, the Abrahamic god of Judaism, Islam and Christianity is a jealous, insecure, violent and cruel – and nothing worth worshipping.


So that the believers of Islam and Christianity continue to spread the word by the sword and threats of damnation and violence is not surprising, given their role model. Jews, being confident in their being the chosen ones, aren’t interested in recruiting; to be chosen, you have to be born to it.


Which probably explains why Christians and Islamists bicker so much, killing each other and shouting, “Hey god, look at me, I dispatched an infidel/heathen, pick me pick me.”


Christians and Islamic people are the toadies to god’s bully.


As such, they are carrying out the spreading of the word with the sword in countries where they can openly get away with it, and by terrorists actions in countries where they cannot openly operate – such as shooting abortion doctors, bombing abortion clinics, suicide bombing in public areas and checkpoints.


I guess they have to go out with a bang to announce their arrive to their god, who must be quite deaf by now from all the sword clashing, weapon firing and bombs detonating in praise of god.


Not all believers are willing to suicide their way to martyrdom and some are even squeamish about shooting doctors, so they take out their violent tendencies with a veneer of civilized conduct – and head out to the voting booth to vote against equal rights for gays and lesbians,  contribute to campaigns that uphold Christian values and ignore that abstinence seems to only speed the deflowering of virgins and increase the number of pregnant teenagers, as well as support the continued spread of AIDs and other sexually transmitted diseases, basically ensuring that woman in other nations will never achieve any measure of personal sovereignty and control over her own reproduction.


And the squeamish believers pray. They pray for the people they don’t like to be smitten, smote, smoted? smotten? punished – and nothing happens to these people that they have identified to their god as deserving of punishment.


How dare those gays and lesbians just go ahead and form families, be all university educated and make more money than decent god-fearing people. And those angry at god atheists and smug humanists and damn free thinkers, educated elite smug bastards deserve a comeuppance – but, the uppance doesn’t come.


Does the believer accept their prayer was answered with a no? Hell no. They set about to activity punish people now on earth – whether they think they are softening us up for hell, or just like regular toadies, want to feel like they are the big bully – so they kick at the non-believers and/or the perverts to give a taste of what’s to come, to make themselves feel the glory and power of god working through them and they sally forth and smite away.


Voting against equal rights, burning crosses on lawns, shooting abortion doctors, dragging people for miles behind their pick up trucks, suicide bombing, gay bashing, protesting and threatening abortion clinic staff and clients, performing exorcisms to pray away the gay, to threaten, abuse and attack both physically and psychologically – and to declare victory over the dead bodies of teens and young adults who have committed suicide than face a life and a world that they would have to share with these god toadies turned representative bullies on earth.


Because clearly, when god answers a prayer for something good with silence, it means no, but when god answers a prayer for retribution and destruction with silence, it means sally forth and do it in my name.


This is supposed to be compelling evidence of god’s love – that god’s people will deny us equal rights, attack us on every front, and revel in our hurts and deaths. Perhaps this is an insight into what kind of place heaven and hell is – for it is here and now – for believers, getting to do what they want to who, without fear of consequences is heaven – and what they want is to make life hell for those of us who do not share their delusion, religion.


Now, there are moderate believers who can refrain from violence, but that’s more to their being good people, with a connection to the community, to having lives, families and friends, economic participation – they have something to lose – so they refrain from criminal actions that would make them subject to human law – besides all the hellfire stuff isn’t real to them, they cheery pick an easier going version of religion, one that does not make demands of them, and allows them to just be as they are with a thin veneer of religion to give them hope that they won’t really die.


Moderates of a religion are really no different than a person who takes bits and pieces from a range of religions and customizes one for their self. Moderates are not believers in a religion, Moderates are people who have taken bits from and forged their own religion, to suit their needs.


Because pure religion has clearly failed to provide framework for guiding and maintaining moral conduct as it is understood today. The Bible was written by people in the bronze age, and these were far more violent times and the violence was not only acceptable, but expected. After the fall of the Roman empire, the middle east was as the wild west – lawless with no comprehensive system of law or justice, it was a period of might makes right. This is not a workable practice in the modern world, which has a system of interrelated laws, not only within each nation, but also governing each nation’s relationships.


Science has replaced religion as the framework to understand the world and ourselves.


International Secular Law, and the rule of law in Democratic nations has replaces religion as the framework to govern our interactions with each other.


Philosophy, Psychiatry and Psychology has replaced religion as a means to understanding ourselves individually.


This leaves religion in a very precarious place of being all tarted up and nowhere to go – the gaps are filling, the needs are changing, and religion no longer provides a workable framework for guiding behaviour – how many more riots over cartoons and art displays, how many more children have to step forward to identify their abuser priests, how many more religious leaders have to be exposed as adulterers, embezzlers, or closeted gay adulterers, how much more suicide bombers and inter-religious violence of not being able to get along with even members of the same religion, when sitting on the floor vs sitting on the chairs results in the police being called in to break up the Sheikh service? Recently, the KKK protested the Westborough Church for picketing at Arlington Cemetery – the hate groups are turning on each other!


It’s said that it’s a poor operator who blames the tools, but at some point, you have to step back and evaluate – are you using the right tools? Are these tools able to get the job done?


Religion does not provide a framework to live a moral life or to work and play well with others.


Religion is a tool to control the masses of people to accept their poverty or bad events as their own fault, to bring money into the coffers of the temple and allow the leadership to live an extravagant lifestyle, which given the adultery and embezzlement scandals, even this semi-honestly achieved opulence isn’t ever going to be enough and they soon become as decadent as the money changers that were ousted from the temple, according to the story, anyway.


So yes, at some point, the system and not the operator, has to be blamed for allowing the abuses to flourish, because the system has no means to self correct or even enforce itself.


Because any religious leader, no matter how many children he raped, or adult women or men he had sex with, no matter how much money he squirreled away, or drugs or debauchery – the get out of hell free card is the quality and public repentance. Repent and be forgiven.


Repent does not restore the children’s innocence and the lack of consequences means that the children grow up unable to ever trust authority – repentance is too often, I am sorry I got caught, I am sorry that you got hurt – and few seem to notice that these fall far short of “I am sorry that I did this to you.”


It is only in taking responsibility for your harmful actions that you can be forgiven – and forgiveness starts with the person you harmed, not forgiving yourself or thinking your god forgives you after a few ritual words and gestures.


The healing cannot being for the victim, until the wrong done them is acknowledged and responsibility/liability for it accepted. No healing is deserved for the victimizer without any healing for the victim, otherwise, the hurt remains and festers.


Believers clearly need something other than religion, for it has failed to give them the moral guidance to be able to work and play well, responsibility and fairly with others.


Does discrimination lead to becoming a terrorist?

I had an Ah Ha moment reading an article which was about watching media dance around ethnicity and religion issues when an event like the Fort Hood shooting occurs.

Basically, that everyone is bend over and twisting around to avoid stating the obvious – that Muslim populations in Western countries that participated in the “War on Terror” after 9/11 are essentially goading these groups to become radicalized and violent. Essentially creating terrorists in our midst.

And this would seem to be a reasonable and even obvious conclusion – when you look at many examples in history of a minority group that’s oppressed, made to be second or third class – they tend to fight back and fight back with violence.

History and current events are rife with examples of one dominate religion or ethnic group stomping on the necks of a minority religion or ethnic group with the result being if not civil war, then prolonged violent outbursts, more suppression and the seemingly never ending cycle which basically stops progress and development in it’s tracks.

Except that I can think of two minority groups that are deemed at best second class citizens, who are limited in their participation and one of whom has active and vocal opposition in being included in basic rights.

And I belong to both minority groups: Atheists and Queers*.

Atheists are limited in their participation in Western society in that they are, if honest, unelectable to public office – not to mention being attacked as Christmas haters every December. Funny enough, Queers are electable in some areas, and so largely don’t share this handicap.

But what Atheists and Queers do share is a public portrayal as:

– lacking in any morals and ethics

– arrogance and self absorption

– perpetual teenagers rebelling against the authority of god, regardless of how old you are or how long you’ve been either or both.

These three charges are so patently foolish on the face of them, that I don’t even feel the need to delve deeper.

For the purpose of this post, what’s interesting to me is that neither atheists nor queers have used terror tactics to forward or achieve their respective agendas.

Both groups have used legal means – lawsuits, protest, education and awareness campaigns and grassroots community building/outreach.

Where atheists and queers part ways is that atheists are largely trying to have existing laws be enforced (that separation of church and state) and queers are trying to have existing laws be consistent with each other – equal access to and treatment under the law applying to all subordinate laws like marriage, military service, immigration, non-discrimination in housing, employment and basic rights that everyone else takes for granted.

So, I am not saying that religious and ethnic minorities do not have a hard time in Western countries.

For me, when gay marriage was up for debate in parliament, it was very difficult to listen to politicians and my Prime Minister say that I and my fellow queers are undeserving to fully participate in society for no clear reason that they could or would articulate.

I imagine it’s similar for law abiding Muslims to listen to politicians spew their war on terror rhetoric – and I tend to agree that you can’t fight terror by becoming a terrorist. This war on terror has been a bigger boondoggle than the US War on Drugs – too bad they don’t find a way to make Peace on these things or at least détente.

But, if queers and atheists – who span all religious and ethnicity – can avoid becoming what our accusers make us out to be – arrogant, immoral, perpetual rebels – then other groups and individuals in those groups can too.

* Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgendered and kinky straights. I hate using the acronym LGBT because to me it sounds like a sandwich, and with more groups wanting to be part of that group, then it just looks like a bizarre text thing or alphabet soup, so I prefer the more encompassing Queer.