Category: Religion

JJ and Billy the Pill

The future? It begins with the meaning of profanity. In the beginning was the word and the word was profane. Take the term substance abuse, for example. Some Christians no doubt believe that substance abuse is profane: you know, the body is a temple of God?

JJ and Billy the Pill have been awake for days searching for the meaning of profanity. Now they’re down to their last fragments of pills, combing the trash for roaches and skimming the bags for powder residue.

While Billy’s in the john, JJ scrapes together enough powder for a line and surreptitiously ingests it.

‘It’s stage 5 in the countdown to the end of the world,’ he tells Billy on his return.

Billy says:

‘I want to email everyone I know and tell them how much I love them.’

Now, Billy’s not known as ‘the Pill’ for no reason. You see, he’s been a user so long the only people he knows are dealers and connections.

JJ tells him:

‘Are you mad? It’s the end of the world.’

‘Mmm,’ Billy replies, ‘so you think I shoudn’t bother?’

‘Do what you like, man. It’s the end of the world.’

Billy thinks for a moment then says:

‘But what if nothing happens, you know, what if the world doesn’t end and we all wake up tomorrow and everything’s still here?’


‘Well, all those people that I emailed would know how much I love them…’

‘Mmm,’ JJ says, gathering up the rest of the pill fragments and hiding them in an empty Marlboro packet, ‘I guess then we’ll have to start counting down again…’

That’s what I love about substance abuse, the virtuous circularity.

In dimly lit rooms faceless men and women sit hunched over keyboards, fingers tapping wildly but silently on their keys, unaware of their thoughts or the processes of their writings. They seek answers to questions that torture timelessly, striving to expel them from their minds and get them out of their mental cells and into the world. There are sensations — something in their fingers like presences or prospects of the cold — but there are no ideas. 

And beyond their rooms there are other rooms in which people lie still as corpses but conscious, as if under a strange and all-pervasive governance, a principality of heel-click on sidewalk and sodium streetlight. A dark miasma seeps into their rooms through loose window pains and broken transoms, a hideously expanding ectoplasm, which they inhale deep down into their lungs as they wait to be written.

Writers are alchemists and they are chosen not manufactured. Chosen by whom? you ask. God? I don’t believe in God, so that’s out. What is there to believe in? Something bigger than ourselves? What could be bigger than a self? What could be bigger than ‘I’? Other men like me, perhaps? Only I’ve never met any.

Writers are chosen. Chosen by what they write. Curses are cast in soiled paper wraps, hexes are hurled through space via satellite and through wires and eventually are rendered in words. Spiritual beauty is to be found in anger. For rage moves like an erotic impulse towards the experience of time suspended; rage can expand the moment so that the whole of life becomes potentially one enormous and eternal present, like a piece of writing.

Here’s an interesting question: isn’t religion a bit like pornography?

P.Z. Myers has ten good reasons for answering that question in the affirmative:

it has been practiced for all of human history in all cultures;

it exploits perfectly natural, even commendable, impulses;

its virtues are debatable, its proponents fanatical;

people love it but can’t give a rational reason for it;

it objectifies and degrades women even when it worships them;

you want to wash up after shaking hands with any of its leaders;

the costumes are outrageous, the performances silly, the plots unbelievable;

there’s nothing wrong with enjoying it but it’s nothing to be proud of; 

it is not a sound basis for public policy, government, or international relations;

its stars are totally fake.

Professor Myers is a Secular Materialist and he’s welcome at my table any time.

Visit his blog.

Death by schism

There’s a guy on the penthouse balcony of a high-rise about to kill himself. A negotiator with a loud hailer is trying to convince him he shouldn’t jump:

“Stop, stop, don’t do it.”

The guy looks down and asks:

“Why not?”

“Well… there’s so much to live for.”

“What’s that then? My kids are on crack and my wife just eloped with their dealer.”

“Well, there’s your faith. Your religion.”


“Are you religious?”


“Me, too. Christian, Muslim or Jew?”


“Me, too. Catholic or Protestant?”


“Hey, far out. Me too. Methodist, Baptist, or Presbyterian?”


“Right on. Listen, are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Saviour?”

“Baptist Church of God.”

“Praise the Lord, we’re brothers. Tell me, are you Original Baptist Church of God or Reformed Baptist Church of God?”

“Reformed Baptist Church of God.”

“Reformed Baptist Church of God Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God Reformation of 1917?”


“Hey, you know what, Jump, you filthy heathen heretic scum.”

“I have a dream” video clip

This is the entire address. It lasts about 17 minutes. What else do you need to do that can’t wait?

It’s official: as of today, “limbus infantium” is no more, having been formally abolished by the Catholic Church.

The concept, based upon the theological belief that children who die before being baptised are suspended in a space between heaven and hell, was developed in the 13th Century in response to the harshness of earlier Church teachings, which held that such children are stained by Original Sin and so are condemned to hell.

 Joe “the rat” Ratzinger, a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI, never believed in the idea anyway. In a pre-papal interview circa 1984, he said:

“Limbo has never been a defined truth of faith. Personally, speaking as a theologian and not as head of the Congregation, I would drop something that has always been only a theological hypothesis.”

However, Joe (or Ben, as he is now), being an acknowledged expert on all things Islamic, and with his eye on Africa and Asia, zones with a high infant mortality rate and ripe for evangelisation, must be intensely aware that Muslims believe the souls of stillborn babies go straight to heaven.

Hence the new edict: stillborn Christian babies do as well. 
The status of “limbus patrum”, where those “good people” went who were unfortunate enough to have died before the coming of Christ, on the other hand, remains… well, in limbo, so to speak.

The other day I’m having a drink with a friend and she starts on about the Pope thing and I tell her: “Yeah, I read the speech but I didn’t write anything about it.”

Actually, I read it very closely with a view to doing just that but, as an atheist, concluded that there was really nothing to write about, except to say: listen guys, don’t worry about it, because, you know, THERE’S NOBODY THERE!

Of course, they’re not going to fall for that one, are they — scientists and modern philosophers have been telling them the same thing without avail since the Enlightenment.

Fact is, they want to believe it, don’t they? And that’s fine: I have no problem with other people’s beliefs, even though, in my opinion, religion — any religion — is the ultimate sting. I think: let them be stung.

So look, I have to tell my friend to forget about the Pope thing. To my Muslim friends (I have many and they know and respect my views, which is more than I can say for the few Christians I count as friends) I say, if the Pope’s speech upset you, forget it, take strength from your faith, ask yourself: can words, or cartoons for that matter, harm the Prophet? 

Outside of friendship, as a secularist, what I say is that everything, faiths and deities included, is, in a secular society (which accurately describes the society I live in, although sometimes it seems that I’m the only one in it) open to discussion and sometimes criticism. And if that strikes you as simplistic and dismissive then you’ve got my view on the subject nailed to the cross (sorry, couldn’t resist that one).

Because the whole “faith” thing, although it doesn’t hold scientific water, is in a very real and dangerous sense water-tight: If you’re a secularist and you’ve ever tried arguing the non-existence of a supernatural God with a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew you’ll know exactly what I mean. You can’t do it, can you? Because faith precludes reason: “well, look, you can say what you like but I know God exists because I believe he does”.

What the Pope said about Islam was that it is incompatible with reason, because some medieval Christian bigot said it was a faith of violence. The pot calls the kettle black and, while they’re arguing about it, the water goes cold.
The main agenda of the speech, however, wasn’t about about Islam versus Christianity. It was about the war — and by that I mean the very real conflict — between faith and reason, between religion and secular humanism.

I’m over it.

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