Wednesday, April 15, 2015

When religion becomes absurd

If the reader is still looking for evidence that religion is wholly-man made for painfully obvious and inescapably mundane reasons, just read the newspaper.

It has been reported in Todayonline that Communist Party of China has declared, without any tinge of cheekiness expected of one making such a pronunciation, that the Dalai Lama of Tibet would be (MUST BE) reincarnated as a child upon death; and even more absurdly, that the blessed child could only be one that has been "approved" by the Party.

Because obviously, the despots in Beijing, are the leading authority on Buddhism and indeed the intricate mechanisms and workings of Reincarnation.

The political (spiritual) spat between Beijing and the Dalai has devolved into a comedy of epic proportions and must certainly embarrass Beijing given its avowed secularism.  One must sincerely wonder whether that poor official Zhu Weiqun, who was unfortunately tasked to press the Party's official position, could have done it with a straight face.  Redness in the face? Must be that infamous Asian flush from one too many goblets of gao liang.

No, of course it is NOT about installing a pro-Beijing puppet leader in Tibet, Zhu vehemently trumpets. It is about "respecting Tibetan Buddhism". 

Er.. wut? This is like a Roman emperor exiling the Pope (after "peacefully liberating" the Vatican) and then denouncing a Papal Bull as blasphemy because it doesn't "respect Christianity."  The only thing more absurd than this analogy is that it is not so far off from what is actually happening in Tibet.

No honest person can argue that this is a dispute regarding theology and not politics. Indeed, both the Dalai and Beijing appear to make no effort in masking the political motivations behind this ostensible argument on the central tenet of Tibetian Buddhism,

The only remaining question is whether there remains any Tibetians, Buddhist or not, who could still view this religion seriously and without its richly deserved contempt?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Questions on Morality

Arguments regarding the origin of morality are practically sine qua non in any debate on the merits of religion. Ultimately, the question is be answered is this:

Does morality come from God?

The inconvenient stories

If that is indeed the case, how does God impart morality to His children? Presumably through the inerrant Word of God, the Bible. It is not uncommon for religious people to denounce homosexuals, divorce or abortion by citing scripture. However, it is also no secret that the Bible contains not a insignificant number of morally-questionable stories or parables.  A quick sample:

Homosexuals should be stoned.  

Children who mock prophets deserve a good mauling by she-bears.  

Citizens (including non-combatants, women and children) of a vanquished country/tribe are to be murdered. Apart from the virgins of course, which you should save for yourself. Yum.

Those who inter-marry should expect a spear thrust through their bodies (much to the glee of onlookers)

In this regard, the context defence is usually employed. However, just thinking out loud, exactly under what context is genocide or murder acceptable? I would be pleased if any one could enlighten me on the same.

Do the moral teachings derived from biblical parables and stories acquire an “updated” interpretation as social mores progresses? If so, whose or which interpretation is to be accepted as "correct"? This in turn elicits a more interesting question of whether the (inspired) Word of God is eternal and consistent.

On the other hand, if it is acceptable for biblical interpretation to evolve with prevalent values adopted by society at any given time, then surely Occam's Razor would suggest discarding the Bible altogether.

One can't help but wonder, given that morality is such an instrumental if not an overriding factor in determining the success and continuity of human civilization, why an infinitely-wise God could not have chosen a less tedious, not to mention cripplingly ambiguous, medium to deliver this all so important message.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The rise of the ultra-sensitive religious

Imagine briefly that you and I hold starkly differing beliefs. Further assume, arguendo, that these views are deeply unpalatable to the other party.

Finally, consider this proposition: If I am vocal about my opinion, and indeed actively dessiminate the same in public (whether solicited or otherwise), I am exercising a constitutionally protected right.  Whereas if you espouse your views in public, it would be illegal on the grounds that I am legitimately offended by your beliefs.

You would beat your chests and fall upon your face at this grotesque unfairness. You would pull your hair and rend your clothes. You would be immensely outraged. And quite rightly so.

And therefore the million-dollar question (or 26 million if you are from a particular church) is this: Why do we continue to provide the religious with carte blanche to restrict freedom of speech of the non-religious? Why do we continue to have, in effect, blasphemy laws?

Embarrassingly, according to Pew Research, Singapore holds membership in a particularly regressive bloc of countries, where it remains illegal to blaspheme. Perhaps just to put things into context, (you know,  for better appreciation of the actual depth of embarrassment), you may wish to note that other members of this bloc include Sudan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Somalia, India, etc.  

And before all you apologists begin to froth at your mouths yapping endlessly about "defending Asian values from evil / selfish Western ideologies", note that most of Asia (including China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan) do not have blasphemy laws . Even in Catholic Philippines, it is only a crime to desecrate a place of worship or to disrupt an act of worship. Yes, that's right, even in religious Philippines, you are quite entitled to openly question the Immaculate Conception. Yet in allegedly secular Singapore, you could get hauled up by the police for making relatively mild comments on a Youtube video. Just google the poor sod Amos Yee. Admittedly, his repertoire is found wanting but his material was only as abject as his indignant detractors (who saw fit to lodge no lesser than 20 police reports over a perceived slight of the Christian faith).

I often wonder, is the faith of the religious so weak, that it could only be maintained and nourished in the absence of criticism? Is your Omnipotent Deity in fact so impotent that He is unable to defend a perceived insult? Are you so bereft of intellectual thought that any time someone calls out your ridiculous beliefs, your only possible response is to call your mama the police. If so, then perhaps faith isn't for you.  Consider doing something real like, you know, Science (where it is actually possible defend your ideas with tangible evidence).

I am also not convinced that the law is necessary to maintain social order and religious harmony.  Harmony is built on frank discourse, not censorship. How can true harmony be achieved when monotheistic faiths only publicly preach tolerance but secretly regard non-adherents as a contemptible and hell-bound lot? On that note, I found it amusing that at least one major faith group in Singapore found it befitting to hold Mass for our recently departed Founding Father, whose atheism is well-known. In my mind, I could only imagine how the prayers went:

"Oh pray for the poor soul of our great founding father, who is no doubt, burning in purgatory now and for the rest of eternity". Well of course they wouldn't say that.  But there is little doubt this would be their sincerely held belief when pressed.

And if members of any religion feel that it is their God-ordained right to respond to any form of criticism with violence and homicide, then I say, as a society, it is better we identify and rid ourselves of such malignant tumors early, lest they fester and corrupt society in its entirety.  The scary pace at which religious extremism takes root must never be underestimated. ISIS any one?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, blasphemy laws allow religious groups to unapologetically and shamelessly dictate (or try to dictate) social norms for everyone else.  You want examples? How about NLB's pulping of books. Or Focus on the Family's "seminars" on relationship/gender norms. In neighbouring India, while the consumption of beef is prohibited for Hindus only, the Hindu-backed Modi government is making the sale of beef extraordinarily onerous presumably to "respect" the sensitivities of the fragile.  Even more astonishing is that the beef ban extends to caged tigers and lions who now have to subsist on religiously insignificant poultry.  Closer to home, Kelantan's PAS is seeking to impose a dual-route judicial system based on religious affiliation.  In each of these examples, because of blasphemy laws, it is near impossible or at least substantially precarious to critique these theologically-motivated propositions. All it takes is for one hyper-sensitive believer to take umbrage, and suddenly the HARMONY-POLICE are at your door.  As a result, these ridiculous propositions become immune to criticism.  How is that at all healthy or beneficial for social harmony?

Make no mistake, give the religious right an inch, and they would lobby for the entire kilometre.  And that's exactly what blasphemy laws do.