Category: religion

Save Noura

Noura Hussein lives in Sudan. And that’s likely where she will die. Very soon. At 16 years old, her family forced her to marry a man she did not want to marry. She refused to consummate the marriage, and so he raped her.

The first rape occurred with the help of his family. They pinned her down while her new husband forced sex on her.

He attempted the second rape by himself. Big mistake. Noura took up a knife and stabbed him to death. But this was a big mistake for Noura, also. She was arrested and charged with premeditated murder.

Now this young, underaged child, who was forced into marriage and raped, has been sentenced to death by hanging, by a Sharia court. Self-defense is apparently no excuse for women who are raped by their husbands, under Sharia law. Her lawyers have until May 25th to save her.

The clock is ticking. Soon Noura’s fate will be sealed.

But apparently the international community is trying to put pressure on the Sudanese government to spare her life. If you have a Twitter account there is a way you can help, by signing some sort of petition. I don’t Tweet, so I have no idea how this works. But here are a few hashtags you can try:

#JusticeForNoura
#Save Noura

Dalia al Najjar brought this story to my attention in her blog. She’s from Gaza, and occasionally posts very interesting articles about her life as a Palestinian from that area. Here’s a link to her blog:

https://daliaalnjjar.wordpress.com/2018/05/19/getting-married-too-soon-or-too-late

And here are a few other links, if you want to read more about Noura:

https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/hammad-sjbn/

https://www.yahoo.com/news/sudan-teens-death-penalty-puts-spotlight-womens-rights-044018167.html

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/may/14/sudan-urged-pardon-teenager-facing-death-for-killing-husband-who-raped-her-noura-hussein

Mission San Diego de Alcalâ

Founded in 1769, Mission San Diego de Alcalâ was the first of the 21 missions the Spanish would eventually build. Er, I mean the Indians they enslaved would eventually build. But after 5 years they had to move a few miles, so they could be closer to a water supply, and to more Indians. Then, just one year after the first church was built, a band of angry natives burned the whole damned place down, and killed the priest. Father Serra had to return and rebuild the mission. This time he had it constructed like a fort, in quadrangular shape, with a courtyard in the middle. This proved very effective against uprisings, and became a blueprint for future missions.


My wife and I love the old Catholic missions of California, and have made it our goal to visit all 21 of them. So far we’ve managed to see eight.

Mission San Diego de Alcalâ was the first of the missions, founded in 1769 by Father Junipero Serra.

I am an atheist, so what is it about these religious grounds that I find so attractive? Within the ambiance of these missions I find myself whelmed in a sense of numinous peace that leaves my soul feeling settled and whole. Why?

Here, Native Americans were enslaved and forced to toil away, feeding and supporting the Spanish military. They couldn’t have enjoyed these missions as much as me. Or could they? Perhaps to understand this, I must rely upon my own personal interpretation of the Gospel.

The posh living quarters of the priest. Equipped with a bed, small desk, and four walls, this was better than any Ramada Inn. That’s because it also came equipped with a small Indian slave, trained and ready to do all the priest’s bidding.

Back in the day, the Roman military occupied Israel. The Jews hated them. Then along came this dude named Jesus, who promised everyone freedom from the Romans. He performed all kinds of supernatural miracles, which attracted a lot of attention and got him way more followers than I’ve ever been able to achieve on WordPress.

Many believed he was the promised Messiah, and that he would use his miraculous powers to send the Romans packing back to Italy.

But instead he let them all down. It was all a bait-and-switch technique. The oldest scam in the book. Christ was a con artist. Instead of conquering the Romans, he taught that true freedom comes from observing the Golden Rule, and relying upon the mercy of God.

Mission San Diego de Alcalâ was designated a minor basilica in 1976, by Pope Paul VI. As you can see, the church is very large, and can seat hundreds and hundreds of slaves.

There is no better way to develop empathy other than to try to figure out how to do unto others what you would have them do unto you. And reliance upon the mercy of God is nothing more than trusting to your luck, and to the long run good fortune that eventually results from the development of empathy.

Supernatural miracles, such as walking upon water, cannot help anybody learn these lessons of empathy and faith. We must learn these lessons on our own. So no matter how powerful Jesus happened to be, he knew he could not transplant the skills of the Golden Rule, or empathy, into his followers. He knew they had to rely upon the ordinary miracle of life itself, by living it and learning it on their own.

The church altar is clinquant beautiful, as have been the altars of all the missions we have thus far visited. I understand that the material used to construct all this beauty is an element called “indulgences”. Indulgences provide worshipers with a convenient method to buy their way into heaven by being generous with their donations.

So one day he decided to stop performing his magic show for his followers. That really did it. They turned on him more viciously than the followers of Kathy Griffin and her severed head of Donald Trump.

The Pharisees seized the opportunity, arrested Jesus, and presented him to the Romans for punishment. Maybe they hoped Jesus would use his supernatural powers to defend himself, sparking an escalating war with the Romans that would result in a Roman defeat.

This sparrow enjoys its own altar within the Mission grounds, perched upon a giant white bird-of-paradise flower.

But Jesus held his fire. And his refusal to defend himself resulted in his execution. This was his sacrifice. This was his way of showing his followers that they could not rely upon external forces to save them. They must instead save themselves by following the Golden Rule, developing empathy, and relying upon the mercy of God. Only then could they know the true way to personal salvation. Only then could they discover how to find true peace and happiness within their own souls.

Yep, this’ll show ‘em.

His final miracle was his resurrection. But he had to do that to get his stupid followers to believe in him and his message again. Just like Kathy Griffin being resurrected at Carnegie Hall. Now we get it, Kathy. Now we understand.

But none of the teachings of Christ are true. They are merely words, and words cannot save anyone. We must instead use the teachings as a guide. When we follow the Golden Rule, and sincerely try to understand it, we develop empathy. When we develop empathy, we develop peace. And when we develop peace we begin to feel ourselves slipping into a wordless grasping of the true essence of life. And then nothing anybody has ever taught, whether they be Christ, Buddha, or Kathy Griffin, means anything.

I believe it is this wordless sense of life’s true essence that we catch a glimpse of, whenever we visit places like this. This is what we find so attractive here. And who knows, perhaps, hopefully, some of the Indian slaves also caught a sense of it here.

Here amongst the bird-of-paradise.

Here within the serene, numinous atmosphere of the adobe walls of an old Catholic mission.

Bird-of-paradise grow abundantly at this mission. We’ve always been impressed with the lush flora cultivated at each mission. I believe the Catholics grow some of the finest flower gardens we’ve ever experienced.

The Day I Converted to Islam

Jean-Leon Gerome, "The Muezzins Call to Prayer"

Jean-Leon Gerome, “The Muezzins Call to Prayer”, 1879.

(This is the next post in a series of two. The first in the series was posted on 5/15/16.)

I was stationed at Incirlik Air Force Base, Turkey, many, many crescent moons ago. Incirlik is in the south of Turkey, about 70 miles west of the Syrian border, and about 20 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a beautiful area with a clement climate. In fact, it reminded me of southern California, where I grew up.

And just like the lowlands of Southern California, Incirlik was hemmed by tall, snowy mountains, called the Taurus mountains. I love mountains and decided that before I left, I’d make a trip up to those highlands and drink in their beauty up close.

I had a Turkish “friend” who drove a cab, and who always tried to accomodate my wishes (for a fee, of course). He would respond to my requests in pidgin, “No ploblem!”

We got about halfway up the slope on a winding highway. I was just sinking into a reverie, lost in the magnificence of giant boulders, forests, and deep sky, when my Turkish friend pulled into the parking lot of some outpost sort of building. He told me to wait in the car, and that he would only be a few minutes.

Shortly after, he emerged from the building with some man in tow. The man was short, but strongly built. He looked like he was in his thirties. He wasn’t wearing a uniform, but he had a kind of official demeanor to him. My friend told me to get out of the car. Then he and this man led me about fifty yards away, to the edge of a giant cement culvert that passed under the highway.

I cast my eyes down to a breathtaking drop of about two hundred feet. This was a massive storm channel, and it would be a long way to fall for any careless person. I caught my breath and exclaimed, “Wow!”

My friend was pale and fidgeting. But the stranger appeared quite calm and sure of himself, while gazing off into the distance. My friend cleared his throat and said, “L-let me ask you something.”

His demeanor seemed abnormal. His nervous behavior, the yawning maw before me, and the whole weirdness of this situation, spelled danger. It occurred to me that they were planning to throw me over the railing. My stomach got the collywobbles. I was all ears concerning this question he wanted to ask, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to hear it, over my pounding heartbeat.

“D-do you believe in God?”

There it was. After more than a year in Turkey I thought I’d done a good job at hiding my atheism. I knew how being “allahsiz” (without God), was anathema in that culture. So I never spoke of it, and always treated Islam with respect.

But the Turks, and I guess so many others in that region of the world, tend to regard Americans as being godless heathens. Which in my case is very true. And apparently, someone didn’t want any heathens trespassing through their sacred mountains.

I knew what I had to do. I had to convert. It was CONvert or CULvert, for me.

Fuck Allah! I thought. “Yes!” I emphatically answered.

The color quickly returned to my friend’s face. He mopped sweat from his brow and beamed widely. “Of course! Of course! How could anyone not believe in God?!” he effused. “Why, look at these mountains! Look at this scenery! Someone had to create all this.”

The other guy seemed satisfied. He strode back to the building, and my friend and I returned to the car.

We continued our tour of the Taurus mountains without further incident.

Thanks be to God. God is fucking great!

Unexpected Unbelief

We atheists like to spread the good word and gain as many converts as possible. After all, how else can we validate our beliefs except by getting everyone else to believe too? Or unbelieve, I guess.

So imagine my delectation after all my door-knocking and handing out blads, to discover something I never expected about Arabs. They’re atheists! Well, not all of them, but a surprising amount sure seem to be.

According to the digital news site, GlobalPost, a growing number of Saudis are privately calling themselves atheists. You can’t publicly declare yourself to be an atheist in that country. That’s a capital offense. But anecdotal evidence indicates that more and more Arabs have grown disillusioned with Islam lately, and are willing to admit off-the-record that they don’t believe in any of that religious crap.

A heretic being prepared for stoning.

Preparation for a stoning.

And New Republic magazine reports that the number of atheists in the Arab world has been vastly underestimated. In 2012, a WIN/Gallup International poll revealed that 5% of Saudi citizens identify themselves as “convinced atheists.” That’s the same percentage as in the U.S. Also, 19% of Saudis consider themselves to be nonreligious. Who would have thunk?

Most Arabs caught in the act of not believing don’t receive the death penalty. Instead, they usually only get a few months or years of jail time. Even so, I can understand why an atheist in a Muslim country would feel reluctant to “come out of the closet” so to speak.

If I lived in that part of the world, I’d certainly keep it to myself. On the outside I’d have all the appearance of your average fanatic, if that’s what it took to stay alive, or out of the calaboose. And in fact, that’s exactly what I did one day in Turkey, many years ago.

More on that, in a few days . . .

An Atheist’s View of Christianity

ChristInGlassCrypt

This is Good Friday, which commemorates the day Jesus Christ was tortured and killed. I’m an atheist. This is an atheist’s point of view, concerning what true Christianity is all about.

Before Jesus Christ came along and upset the apple cart, the Jewish religion was plugging along as best it could. But it was laden with all kinds of rules and punishments, many of which could never pass muster under the U.S. Constitution. I mean, in those days women were put to death on their wedding night if they were found not to be virgins. You could be stoned for breaking the Sabbath. Disobeying a parent could warrant death. And you’d better not take the Lord’s name in vain.

Anyway, Jesus said to hell with all those silly rules, and all that cruel and unusual punishment. He made just one rule, which is considered to be golden. The King James version of the Bible, at Matthew 7:12, quotes Jesus as saying, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Just like that, this diktat from Christ wiped away all the rules the Jews were following, and replaced them with the very simple Golden Rule. Christianity is centered around it. There is nothing more or less to true Christianity than the Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule is based upon empathy. Empathy is what we ultimately need from others. We need our feelings to be understood and our needs to be appreciated. We need our pleasures to be celebrated and our pains to be commiserated. And we need to empathize with others, as we would have others empathize with us.

Empathy dissolves hatred and bridges communication gaps between the estranged. Empathy establishes trust, and makes human relationships manageable and enjoyable. And empathy has been found to be the only psychology that truly reforms criminals.

Those who wrote the gospel did a masterful job of portraying the Golden Rule, and empathy, at play between God and humans. The authors realized that if you follow the Golden Rule completely, you must be willing to experience pain and death for the benefit of others. Because after all, wouldn’t you want others to be willing to do the same for you?

And even if others are unwilling to die for you, you must be willing to die for them. After all, if your empathy was underdeveloped, wouldn’t you still want others to have more empathy for you than you could dredge up for them?

So Jesus told Peter at the Last Supper that he would deny him three times. Ah yes, he knew in advance that his most devoted disciple still had not developed enough empathy to die for him. And yet he was still willing to die for Peter. This was the point the Gospel authors were trying to make.

Peter did go on to deny him three times. Had he not, he too would have been tortured and killed. He knew how to save his own skin, even if that meant turning his back on his best friend. The lesson here is that a good Christian has developed so much empathy for Jesus, that he would be willing to sacrifice his life for Jesus. Peter was not quite yet a good Christian.

But Peter redeemed himself. About 30 years later Nero blamed the Christians for the burning of Rome and had Peter crucified. At last, in his old age, he was finally willing to give up his ghost for the Lord.

Judas was a different story. He never developed any empathy at all, and went on to betray his best friend for the monetary gain of 30 pieces of silver. And yet Jesus was still willing to die for him. Now that’s empathy. That’s following the Golden Rule to the hilt.

I believe the story of the life and death of Christ is one of the most beautiful didactic tales of love and sacrifice that has ever been told. I also strongly suspect it’s a myth.

But suppose it’s actually true. In that case, I hope Jesus Christ would understand how hard it is for me to believe it. Walking on water? Feeding thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two fish? Raising the dead? Being resurrected, himself?

Yes, I doubt. And I wonder just how wise it would be to sacrifice your life for those who would abandon you or kill you for their own gain. I do try to practice empathy, but I also try to practice the Middle Way that the Buddha taught. Therefore, I try to avoid taking anything to an extreme, including empathy. I don’t practice empathy in the true, extreme Christian way.

So if the Gospel is true, I hope Jesus Christ would understand and forgive me for my dubiety. I hope he would appreciate why I did not bet on him, or go all-in with his Golden Rule. And I hope he would intercede on my behalf when a judgmental God would try to hurl me into the fiery pit of Hell.

After all, I would do the same for him.

Does God Owe You a Refund?

Colonial Church of San Sebastian, Mazatlan, Mexico.

Colonial Church of San Sebastian, Mazatlan, Mexico.

It’s Sunday, so it’s time for a parable:

Winston Bloot was a pious man, who also had a sharp business acumen. One Sunday after church services, his minister took him aside for a heart-to-heart.

“Winston, I’ve been examining the records, and it appears you haven’t tithed at all since the first of the year. Has there been some sort of mistake?” inquired Reverend Nosyparker.

“Perhaps on your part, because indeed, I have been tithing.” Winston growled passionately, piercing the reverend’s skull with a gimlet eye. “However, it is true I’ve left no envelopes in the collection plate since the first of the year.”

The reverend scratched his head, cuing further explanation.

“You see, Reverend, I’ve been calculating my taxes. Last year I paid an effective tax rate of 29% of my total income. That comes to roughly $29,000, because my total income last year was about $100,000. This includes self-employment tax and everything.

“Over the prior year I also donated 10% of my income to this church, which worked out to about $10,000. Thus, the total amount I paid out to the causes of church and state last year was $39,000, or 39% of my income. However according to the Bible and all the fine sermons you deliver, the tithing rate is only 10%. Thus I over-tithed by 29%, or $29,000, last year.

“My conclusion, Reverend, is that God owes me a refund of $29,000.”

The reverend shook his head vigorously. “No, no, that’s not true. In the Bible, Jesus said, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ The state tax and God’s tax are two different things.”

“But don’t all people, including Caesar, belong to God? So if I render to Caesar, or in these days, Obama, haven’t I rendered to God?”

The reverend was defeated. He could continue to sermonize, argle-bargle, shame, and make many different cases and points. But his experience with other non-tithing parishioners told him that he wouldn’t be able to convince brother Bloot of the error of his ways. They all stood firmly by their casuist rationalizations. This is why men and women of the cloth usually struggle to make ends meet. It’s very hard to compete with government taxation.

The best he could do was continue to get up every Sunday morning and deliver sermons about the evils of liberalism, and promote conservative candidates who promised to shrink the size of government.

Small government means more money available for tithing. And it means less money going toward government programs that confute the teachings of the Bible. Such as scientific research.

Small government means the needy would have to turn to religious organizations for their charity. This would increase the membership and power of the church.

Reverend Nosyparker seems to be part of a sunset industry, valiantly but vainly struggling against the government. Tithing has decreased to historic lows in America. Church attendance has declined precipitously. The common charity these days is government, and the prevalent religion is science. This can be good or bad, depending on your perspective.

But if you’re paying at least 10% of your income in taxes, and tithing above that, perhaps you’re over-tithing.

And perhaps God owes you a refund.