Modern Times

Modern Times

Welcome to the new normal

Muhammad Ali in 1967. <q>We hold but empty names.</q>
Muhammad Ali in 1967. We hold but empty names.

In this short post I reflect on the current Ramadan, the passing of Muhammad Ali and the mass-shooting that claimed the lives of no less than 50 people.

As a straight guy and a liberal I had always known it would happen one day and, filled with supressed homophobia, I had dreaded the moment it would. When it finally did happen, the first time I saw two men kiss, it turned out I had been wrong. It was neither ‘grose’ nor very noteworthy. In fact it had all the mundaness of a kiss shared between a married man and woman; in haste while parting in the full expectation to see each other later in the day.

It did not fill me with the kind of rage as Omar Mateen felt who allegedly
seemed both revolted as well as somewhat excited by the sight of other men kissing each other. Obviously the run-in-the-mill serial-killer must begin to feel woefully inadequate when your-standard closeted ‘faggot’ homosexual is capable of sending the better part of a hundred people en-route to Walhalla. It is a brave new world when a socially invested President is faced with more mass-shootings than there were days in the year.

Obviously Omar was a severely disturbed individual and obviously there is a lot to be blamed on weak gun-laws. However it is equally obvious that were it not for the ‘superior moral compass’ that religions have provided us with, that Omar would have been a lot freer to recognise his own inclinations and accept them for what they were. Because what is easier, when you have a hard time making it through this world -for instance when you struggle with your frowned upon inclinations- than to seek an ending to it in a way that buys you instantaneous access to heaven .

These aren’t merely modern times because we live in an age where the individual is both under-attack as well as capable of reeking mayhem on the group. These times are markedly different because we combine the above with religious expansionism where a few -massively successful- religions combine fundamentalist aggressiveness with righteous persecution complexes. For instance you may have seen posts on social media lamenting the way print-media didn’t Title ‘Islamic boxer died.’ at the passing of Mohamed Ali. Which to me seems a little unfair given that Every article about the subject mentioned Casius Clay’s conversion as well as his changing of his name. And while the poor persecuted muslims online question why terrorists are always labelled as ‘Islamic’ there are three very good reasons why ‘Islamic’ was not in Ali’s obituary title:

  1. Everybody knew his name, so using generic labels was uncalled for.
  2. Generic labels are used in titles when they reveal something about cause and effect. If you claim to kill people in Allah’s name, and this is not in contradiction to the core tenets of the religion and part of a clear trend, your religious label will Trump trump your name.
  3. Muhammed Ali was a great man and athlete before and after he became a muslim. In science we tend to deny ’causes’ happening after consequences.

When you are taught to make or extinguish a fire you are pressed to remember than fire consists of three ingredients: oxygen, heat and a flammable material. Different approaches to putting fire out can target different components of fire. However if you put a match to gasoline you will not convince the judge that the real culprit was the one who allowed the oxygen to reach both. Likewise a religious terrorist attack consists of deeply disturbed people, deeply deranged religious rules and the presence of various kinds of weapon technology. Take any factor away and the incident doesn’t take place.
However not all things in the fire-equation are equal: even if we had the science and the technology to distinguish the sane from the insane people, we couldn’t apply a filter without infracting on some serious individual freedoms including the rule that you can’t be punished for something you might do. So, like oxygen, we can’t take ‘insanity’ out of the equation entirely.
Yes, sure, there is no reason that deranged persons should have access to full-automatic-assault-rifles. There is frankly no reason I can think of why these things shouldn’t be outlawed. At the very least this limits the number of casualties an idiot can make. On the other hand, knives are cheap, ubiquitous and necessarily legal and they have a higher track-record than guns or bombs if we consider 9-11 a knife-strike. Like with flammable material, it is good and sensible to limit access to napalm or to machine guns, but weapons are actually all around.
This is the reason we don’t leave sources-of-heat out of sight: it is the only one we have limited use for. The same goes for religion, once you let it escape the box you must assume it will find oxygen and flammable material and do terrible damage.

It is the month of Ramadan and, despite my anti-theism, I think it beholds us to take into account that pious muslims around the world are having a hard time. It is after all the Ramadan that will cross the longest day of the year. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is ignorant to do anything to please an imaginary sky-fairy. But anyone who can refrain from eating for 18 hours; anyone who goes to bed after 22h and gets up at 03:00 in order to get something in their body, then goes about a normal day which includes being around other people that eat, for a month! Respect!
On another note: no coincidence really that such endeavours lead to some pretty deeply rooted religious feelings. Just imagine how grateful one must feel to get some food late at night and to hear it is thanks to Allah.
Unfortunately it also seems to make some of the followers a little cranky and more prone to enforce strict abidance to the rules. Like with the case of the French-waitress that was abused for serving alcohol during Ramadan purely because she had North-African lineage. Apart from a feat of character it seems Ramadan is also an accentuator of entitlement. And I understand that. If I would have abstained from food for over 18h I also would feel like this accomplishment entitled me to feeling superior and having things my way, but I would be wrong and superiorly so. My self-harming irrationality is my right. It doesn’t oblige those not afflicted by it.

I’m sure your god, like a little flame, can keep you warm inside. And it would be ok for me, if you actually kept it inside. But instead you like to make weekly bonfires and you like it if everyone attends and allows you to do it whenever you like wherever you want. Most importantly, you’d like to shape the world so that Men. Don’t. Kiss! I’ve found out, if you’re ‘straight’, it doesn’t affect you all that much; why would it?
There is really nothing stopping anyone from converting to a much safer religion. I mean, if it is ok for Ali to do so, it sure is ok for any of us right? Does it really matter which, if any, religion keeps you warm inside? I hear Jainism is pretty benign.

Religion is the most effective component of religious-terrorism we could theoretically get rid of. I say “Let’s go for it!”.


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