Thursday, May 20, 2010

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day

Today we celebrate Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. Here's my submission:

Why are we doing this? For centuries, religious lunatics have been dreaming up, purely out of thin air, arbitrary theological taboos specifically for the purpose of becoming artificially offended by any violation, inadvertent or intentional. They then respond with threats and sometimes acts of violence.

These ridiculous taboos include such things as drawing pictures of Mohammed, gay people smooching in public, depictions of Jesus having happiness with Mary Magdalene, sticking rusty nails into tiny snickets of stale bread, and a near-infinity of other totally harmless acts.

In the interest of freedom of speech and freedom of artistic expression, this bullying has got to be stopped. One of the ways to stop it is to join together and flood the media with deliberate and severe violations of these taboos, so as to overwhelm the bullies and dilute any possible threat they could present.

But shouldn't we respect these taboos? NO! Definitely not! Respect must be reserved for that which is respectable. The way an idea gains respectability is to be submitted to intense scrutiny, criticism, and ridicule, and let it rise above all criticism on its own merit. Religious ideas have not done this. They've been protected under the title "sacred" and can therefore never undergo the process required to become respectable.

But how about the Golden Rule, you say? In my opinion, the highest application of the Golden Rule is to treat artists and opinion-holders the way we'd like them to treat us, namely, unite behind them and stand firm against these bullies. It certainly isn't good for anybody to let these insufferable crybabies rule the world.

At least one whole country (Pakistan) has responded by decreeing, in effect, that Islam is not really a religion, it's a severe mental disorder. They've apparently blocked the entirety of Facebook simply because the event for Everybody Draw Mohammed Day has been hosted primarily on Facebook. At latest report, it appears that some other Islam-dominated countries may be following suit. In doing so, they're removing themselves from any semblance of respectability.

I've even heard it said that all religions are really nothing but institutionalized mental disorders. That idea may actually have some partial merit.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

International Day of Reason

Today we celebrate the International Day of Reason. I really don't expect this to be a very popular celebration.

Reason requires logic, not necessarily formal mathematical logic, but at least logic in the classical sense of putting your thoughts in order.

Formal mathematical logic has never been rigorously proven valid. Several of the most famous attempts at proving the validity of logic involved the mathematical technique of recursive invocation. Bertrand Russell showed that the use of recursive invocation requires the definition of such a thing as the set of all sets that are not members of themselves which raises the question of whether this set is a member of itself or not. If it is, that proves it isn't. If it isn't, that proves it is. Thus recursive invocation in logic is actually a convoluted form of circularity.

Several more attempts at proving the validity of formal logic were based on attempts to determine the attributes of a premise set that is both complete and consistent, in the mathematical sense. Kurt Godel then proved that the validity of logic itself would render such a premise set impossible.

So we don't really know whether logic is actually valid, that is, necessarily workable in all possible realms of reality, or only a created feature of our universe.

We can all think of a realm in which logic doesn't work: Your dreams, in which you might be able to make a whole pot of coffee with only one teaspoon of water, you might be able to build a multi-lane bridge across the Chesapeake Bay using nothing but recycled Post-it notes, you might be able to feed five thousand hungry people with five biscuits and a couple of sardines, or whatever.

But is dreamland a realm of reality? Well, define it any way you please. If you regard your dreams as real, then obviously logic is not valid by that definition.

But even without the use of formal mathematical logic at least you can put your thoughts in an understandable order. Some folks can't even do that. Almost every presentation I've ever been to, during the Q & A session there's always at least one question-asker who can't see fit to ask the question as briefly as possible and then listen for the answer, but has a personal need to ramble incoherently, yakking over the presenter and leaving no chance for an answer.

In my personal life I stand astraddle of the Episcopal Church and Secular Humanist communities. The Episcopal Church is currently attempting to promote a set of presentations called Living The Questions, which attempts to reconcile Christian doctrine with rational thought, which is impossible. I've been sitting through these sessions and thinking, you know, we'd achieve rational thought much more quickly if we'd follow the Secular Humanist lead and totally abandon the primitive stone-age superstition that the entire universe is being secretly masterminded by an invisible sky-fairy named God who suffers from a chronic three-way identity crisis caled a Holy Trinity.

It looks to me as though the entire notion of a Day of Reason is likely to be forgotten in the wake of a string of conflicting court decisions as to the constitutionality of a National Day of Prayer. It's unlikely that reason will play a part in any of these court decisions.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Humoring Crybabies

Does the Golden Rule require that we humor the whimsies of insufferable crybabies? What if these whimsies stand in opposition to all reason and tradition?

Here's an example: A Muslim whimsy is the forbidding of the portrayal of Muhammad. Western tradition holds that important historical figures, including Muhammad, must be portrayed in art. Another hallowed Western tradition is that sheer idiocy, such as that occasionally exhibited by a few Muslim extremists, must be mercilessly lampooned in cartoons.

Certain Muslims are upset because unflattering portrayals of Muhammad have appeared entirely outside of Muslim private domain, where such portrayals are appropriate. Of course it would be a grievous breach of etiquette to post a cartoon of Muhammad on the property of the Islamic center in Prince Frederick, and neither I nor any civilized person would do such a thing. But in the public domain do we have a duty to violate our own time-honored traditions just to avoid upsetting these crybabies?

Recently there's a Facebook event established for May 20 called Everybody Draw Mohammed Day (deliberately using the traditional Western misspelling of Muhammad that irritates some Muslims). The inventor of this event is trying to wimp out and say, now folks, we really didn't mean it, let's not really draw Muhammad but let's be nice and follow the Golden Rule. So what do you think?

Here's another example: A Roman Catholic whimsy holds that communion wafers be treated with special reverence during the church service. Everyone probably remembers an incident a while back where someone at a Roman Catholic church service took the wafer back to his seat instead of eating it at the altar. This was, of course, a breach of etiquette, which he shouldn't have committed. But apparently somewhat of a mini-riot ensued, far beyond the reaction that would seem to be justified.

So, one of the more popular bloggers on the Internet posted a rather lengthy entry about the event, referring to the communion wafer as "just a frackin' cracker" and suggesting that if anyone could score him a communion wafer he'd desecrate it. A few weeks later he posted an entry showing a picture of a desecrated wafer.

Now, within a church service, decorum is important. But outside of a church service, in your own domain and on your own nickel, you can buy your own communion wafers from C.M. Almy or any of several other sources for about eight or ten bucks a thousand and do anything you please with them. So, do Roman Catholic crybabies have any business getting upset over this blogger's entry?

And now for a hypothetical example: Suppose you have a relative who, by means of a lifetime of horribly unhygienic habits and maliciously hostile attitudes, destroyed her own health and alienated everyone around her, so now she's in the hospital and has no friends. She's making excessive demands on you, wanting you to visit her daily even though you live a couple of hours drive away, and wanting you to bring her things but is never clear about exactly what she wants until you arrive with the wrong thing, and making all sorts of unreasonable demands.

What duty do you have toward this relative? How far do you need to go in catering to her needs? What do you think?

Basically, I think the Golden Rule needs to be tempered by a bit of rational thought. Do unto others what you reasonably might want sane and rational people to do unto you. Oh by the way, I'm perfectly aware that the Golden Rule appears to have been a part of moral philosophy as early as the eighteenth century BC, long before it was ever accepted into any religion.