Archive for category Religion

Witch Hunt

I saw an astonishing program the other day. Apparently witch hunts still occur in New Guinea. When something bad and unexplained happens it is not uncommon to blame it on some poor woman and accuse her of witchcraft, after which she is beaten, tortured and often killed. While her family will sometimes support and protect her more often than not they go along with her accusers and denounce her as well.

Some of these accusers were interviewed in the program. All of them were men. Hopefully this means the women are too intelligent to believe in this sort of nonsense. The interviewed men seemed to genuinely believe in what they were doing despite the absurdity and cruelty of it.

Unfortunately it seems far too easy to accuse someone of witchcraft. Presumably if you held a grudge against them you could come up with something farfetched like, my chicken just died, point the finger and shout, “She did it!” And that is all that is needed. The accuser is not required to come up with any kind of proof, making it impossible for the accused to defend herself. If she survives the beating and torture she is often ostracised by her community and may as well have been killed.

It is truly shocking how ingrained this sort of nonsense still is and how horrible the consequences are. Still, cultures that support the notion of rising from the dead, water turning into wine and thousands of people being fed with a few loaves and fishes need to be careful about throwing stones. They should be setting an example by renouncing their own superstitions.

Dr. F. Bunny

 

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Bongo Congo

I am currently reading “Congo Journey” by Redmond O’Hanlon. Redmond and his travelling companion, Lary, journey through the Congo from Brazzaville in the south to Lake Tele in the north in search of the mythical mokele-mbembe, a kind of Congolese Loch Ness monster. They are accompanied on their travels by several local Congolese who “assist” them to navigate the maze of Congolese politics, villages and pygmies.

It is an interesting, thought provoking and, at times, hilarious read. One of the points the book touches on is the way people’s relationships towards animals differ. This is illustrated in an exchange between Redmond and Nze, one of the local Congolese who is about to kill a chicken for dinner. Redmond expresses concern and asks Nze to make sure he despatches the chicken quickly and humanely. Nze, puzzled, says, “It’s a chicken.”

There is no “fluffy bunny” syndrome in the Congolese jungle with animals divided roughly into two groups: useful and not useful. Those that are useful fall into that category because they provide meat, eggs or milk. The not useful group can be further subdivided into benignly not useful i.e. they have no discernible human use but they are not harmful either e.g. many of the birds, frogs, etc., and not useful but harmful, such as leopards, cobras and Driver ants.

The “human-animal” bond, as Redmond and Lary would understand it, appears not to exist. Presumably this is because, in a society where each day is a struggle for human survival and death an ever present possibility, the luxury of wasting food and emotions on non-human individuals that do not contribute physically to that survival cannot be afforded. This is not to say that they do not understand the animals that surround them. I would say they have a much better understanding of human-animal interdependencies than either Redmond or Lary. For the Congolese it is important to know how the natural world functions, not out of abstract scientific curiosity, but because everyone’s survival depends on it. There is no room for sentimentality over other species when human life is lived so precariously and human death occurs so frequently.

Much of what occurs in people’s lives on a daily basis is mired in superstition and magic with pygmies singing songs to ensure hunting success and sorcerers placing spells and curses on people for all sorts of bizarre purposes. The reasons behind these superstitions and religion in general are summed up in this elegant exchange between Lary and Redmond.

“God damn it all to hell and back twice,” announced Lary, outwardly peaceful, lying straight out on the groundsheet. “What’s the point, that’s what I want to know, what is the point of all this sorcery? What is the psychological and social function of all this fear? Why live in terror of all this magic and bullshit and spells for this and spells for that when you don’t have to? Why not say to Dokou (the sorcerer), “Dokou, old man, I’m sorry, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but with all due respect for your great age and wisdom and authority in this village, why don’t you just take your mumbo jumbo and stick it up your ass and turn it sideways?”

“I don’t know,” I said. …. “The usual answer is that it gives a structure, a meaning to life, and that you certainly need one when all your thinking is pre-logical, when your idea of nature makes no distinction between subjective and objective impressions and thoughts –  when your inner and outer worlds are all mixed up, when there’s no obvious dividing line between your own mental reality and that of a passing leopard, or a bat over the hut, or a bamboo clump that’s holding a party for Driver ants. I imagine we all think like that for at least a fraction of each day, some more so than others, and more at some times of our life than at other times – when we’ve had a setback or a shock or when someone dies or when we’re ill or in love –  and more often at night than in the daytime. But here the nightmares never get an enclosing line drawn round them, they never get bagged up and thrown away – they just hang around out there, you meet them when you go for walks in the forest, they come at you between the trees, they get you after dark.” ….

“But the real point of it must be simple – you know the big fear is out there, waiting to bust in through your hut wall: you can be sure that two or three of your children will die as children, that you’ll get ill, that you’ll die young. So you give yourself lots of little fears, fears you half-know are not serious, to diffuse the big horror into the landscape. It’s a bit like the psychological bargain Christians and Muslims strike with themselves: you agree to abandon for life your ability to think straight; you accept a job-lot of fairy tales, all kinds of absurdities; and in return for the effort it costs to push your intellect back in to bed every time you get up in the morning, you’re released from the big one, the fear of death. You can really start to tell yourself that you’ll see your dead mother and father again, that your dead children are not dead, that your dead friends are still sitting drinking round the fire, and, maybe, even your favourite dog is waiting for you, fast asleep.”

“Put like that,” said Lary quietly, “it’s not such a bad bargain.”

Dr. F. Bunny

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Playing God

I find it intriguing that when certain groups of people don’t like something, like stem cell research or euthanasia, they deride it by saying the proponents are, “playing God”. This is presumably because the proposal is attempting to tamper with the “natural” order of things. What I don’t hear is very many people invoking the “playing God” concept when it is their own child with a broken bone that needs mending or a prescription of antibiotics for their own very sore throat. Surely every time a doctor does anything to alleviate suffering he is “playing God” by interfering with the natural course of events?

Personally, I don’t have a problem with this as I don’t see God joining in the game. It seems a bit churlish that, just because they are his toys and he refuses to play with them, we aren’t allowed to either.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Religious Slaughter II

John Blackwell, president-elect of the British Veterinary Association, is to be congratulated for his call to make religious slaughter more humane (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/britains-top-vet-sparks-controversy-with-call-for-ban-on-slashing-animals-throats-in-ritual-slaughters-for-halal-and-kosher-meat-products-9173258.html). 

There is no scientific reason why an animal should have its throat cut while fully conscious. As Dr. Blackwell rightly points out a sheep with its throat cut will remain conscious for seven seconds while cattle, which have an extra blood vessel in their spinal column, can remain conscious for up to two minutes. This practice was presumably instigated many moons ago to ensure meat was fresh. In this modern age such a justification is no longer applicable, and animal welfare concerns should take precedent over religious superstitions. The Danish recently managed to ban the slaughter of animals without prior stunning and it would be wonderful if the British followed suit.

Unfortunately, as soon as anything is suggested that a religious group does not like, such as banning religious slaughter or circumcision, they conveniently ignore the scientific reasons and start screaming about religious freedom. Why superstitious beliefs should take precedent over animal welfare is beyond me.

See also my post, “Religious Slaughter” written in 2011 in response to the Dutch banning the practice.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step.” Lao tzu

Dr. F Bunny

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You Believe What You Want To Believe (Tom Petty)

Scientific research relies on rigorous systematic testing that involves treatment and control groups and extensive peer review to prove or disprove hypotheses. That way we can be confident in the result, regardless of what the findings may be. In reality this is not always the case, people believing what they want to believe regardless of the evidence. Look at the trouble Copernicus and Galileo had trying to convince people that the Earth revolved around the Sun. Sadly, despite being scientifically trained, I am not really any different.

As an example, coffee is a marvellous drink proven, through scientific research, to increase energy levels, improve physical performance, and lower the risk of developing type II diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, liver cancer and colorectal cancer. Much more spurious research that obviously needs to be repeated with a larger data set seems to link coffee to sleep disturbance, increased blood pressure and raised levels of cholesterol.

The research is similarly biased when it comes to alcohol consumption. I like nothing more than to sit back with my very full glass of red and read how the resveratrol in my Shiraz keeps my heart healthy and further protects me against diabetes and Alzheimer’s. All that nonsense about depression, cancer, cirrhosis and memory loss is surely just that?

The list goes on. Any research that supports an activity I engage in and enjoy is sound while anything that contradicts it is suspect. Science even has a name for this, confirmation bias. I suppose religions would call it faith.

Dr. F. Bunny

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For God’s Sake

Testing. Testing. Is this thing on? Okay. Thanks.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am fed up with having sympathy for the devil, giving the devil his due or being the devil’s advocate. For someone who whinges about not getting enough air time Lucifer seems to be everywhere these days. Well I say, what about me? Isn’t it time we heard from the other side? From me? From God?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, today is your lucky day.

I will give him credit. Lu has made evil into an attractive proposition. It’s cool to be bad and dreadfully old fashioned to be good. But what exactly is cool about mass murder, genocide, theft, or rape? I don’t remember too many smiling victims saying how cool it felt to be slaughtered or have their houses burned to the ground. Never mind greed being good, good is good. Good is the new cool.

How cool is it when you forget your wallet only to have it returned, credit cards and cash intact? How cool is it when you are trapped in a wrecked car because a drunken idiot slammed into you and a bunch of strangers stop and pull you out? This is the sort of stuff you should get excited about, not gang wars, drugs and violence. Nobody wants to be a part of that.

And please stop trying to defend my honour. I am God and I don’t need anyone to fight my battles for me. I don’t want people to blow themselves and their neighbours to hell, because that is certainly where they are going, on my behalf. I am a big boy and I can look after myself. People have been killed in my name for centuries and I want it to stop. Now. I have to admit that I am really looking forward to meeting all those guys who tell everyone else to die for me. Oddly enough they don’t seem to be in any kind of rush to come and visit. I wonder why?

And what is it with the sex thing? I love sex. After all I invented it, didn’t I? Stop making it into some kind of dirty disgusting thing and have fun. Contraception is fine too. Everyone knows you can’t just keep reproducing forever. But celibacy hurts my feelings. It makes me think you don’t appreciate my gifts. So stop acting like Lucifer’s the fun guy and I am the stick in the mud. Lu’s idea of fun involves children and doing things without people’s consent.

Unlike Lu I want you to get on with your lives, with minimal interference from me. Sure I made you but, like a good parent, I know when to let go. I don’t want to tell you what to do every second of the day. I am happy to give you advice but you can take it or leave it. I want you to make your own mistakes and learn your own lessons. And don’t believe what is written in all those so called holy books. You know what the media is like when it comes to reporting facts.

Now, I like you, I really do. After all I made you in my image. But, like any parent, I can’t play favourites. I have to treat you all equal, so if you decide to break all your toys I am not going to make you new ones, and if you drive yourselves to extinction that will be sad, but I am not going to intervene. I have other children on other planets to worry about and I can only devote so much of my time to you. Personally I think it is time you all grew up, took responsibility for your lives and got on with it. I will always be here and I will always be your parent but now it is time for you to leave the nest and fly.

Good luck. And Ozzy, God is not dead, not by a long stretch.

 

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Do Animals Have Religion?

Hopefully this post won’t be as painful as the last three. I have just finished reading the latest Jared Diamond book, “The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies?” Apparently one of the things we can learn is that all societies invented some kind of religion. However, just because everyone else is doing it does not necessarily make it right.

Diamond advances a number of reasons for the apparent ubiquity of religion. Firstly, we want to know why things happen the way they do. We want reasons and answers and, when we can’t find any, we make them up by inventing mysterious forces to explain the workings of the world. The more science removes the cloak of mystery the less religion is needed to explain the universe. These days we rarely see Apollo and his chariot zipping the sun across the sky each day.

Secondly, religion is used to defuse anxiety and provide comfort when things go wrong. If we think our dead loved ones are going to live on in some magical place like heaven we tend to feel a bit better about it all. When our plane hits that turbulence and we start praying to avoid dying in a fiery crash we feel a bit more in control of the situation and believe we still have influence over the outcome. Unfortunately praying is a little bit like sitting in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but it does not actually get you anywhere.

Thirdly, religion is used to generate a code of behaviour to which followers are expected to adhere. This has the double advantage that it allows leaders to demonise external groups that do not follow the code and justify wars against them. Those heathens over there eat pigs, kill cows, etc. Therefore, they cannot be the chosen ones and we are doing God’s will by putting them all to death and taking their land and resources. To make doubly certain that we do not accidentally smite members of our own team religions come up with all manner of rituals, such as cutting off the end of the penis, that confirm our membership of the club.

Diamond states that religion is a peculiarly human trait. No animals have religion. He does not, however, come up with any evidence to support his assertion. While it is true that no other species appears to erect edifices to imaginary friends or engage in bizarre rituals for no obvious purpose, our animal friends may have come up with their own unique ways of worshipping things that don’t exist. Dolphins are, after all, anatomically ill equipped to build cathedrals.

Diamond thinks that animal intelligence has not evolved to the point where it needs supernatural comfort or answers to the universe’s unanswerable questions, and so has not been able to develop religion. But could not the opposite have happened? Could animal intelligence have developed to the point where animals are happy to admit that some things cannot be explained and that when you die you rot or are eaten in order to continue the circle of life? Is it possible that they accept that life has no higher meaning and we are just alive for the here and now, and are perfectly comfortable with that fact? Are they secure enough in this life that they need no imaginary support or comfort?

Dr. F. Bunny

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