Pagan vs. Heathen

A few weeks ago, in an aside, I used both terms pagan and heathen in the same sentence, prompting my father to ask me what the difference is. Truth be told, when I was writing, I simply used both words because I liked the rhythm, while being dimly aware that I was probably using two terms that essentially were synonyms.

So what is the difference between a pagan and a heathen? It turns out that the answer is not simple at all.

Historically, both terms were used by people who believed in the Bible God to describe people who didn’t subscribe to the Judeo-Christian belief – but with subtle differences. Both were derogatory terms. Pagan was used to identify an idol worshipper of Hellenistic origin (Zeus, Jupiter, Athene, etc.). The term Heathen, on the other hand, referred to the untamed wild northern people – living on the Heath – who worshipped Asgardian gods (Odin, Thor, etc.).

Later (around 1000 AD, after Christianity had become more entrenched in Europe and belief in Hellenistic and Asgardian gods became rare), these terms became less distinct. From inside Christianity, everyone who wasn’t a Christian was referred to as a heathen, including Muslims (who are a subset of the Abrahamic faith), and Atheists (rare as they were), but excluding Jews. So after the crusades, the words heathen and pagan became true synonyms.

Of course, it is important to note that both terms require a frame of reference: the word heathen or pagan loses meaning outside the Christian sphere. Islam, for example, does not make the distinction: for both words, the Arabic translation is الوثني, i.e. a primitive unbeliever (yet Islam itself makes the distinction between Unbelievers and People of the Book (أهل الكتاب): Jews, Sabians and Christians).

Today, of course, it’s even more complex. New Age Bimbos have rediscovered belief in supernatural BS, and have honestly started to refer to themselves as Pagan or Heathen. The fact that they refer to themselves as a non-christian rather than what they actually believe in tells us everything we need to know about the level of intelligence involved in these believers.

And then of course there is my favorite meaning: nowadays, when someone jokingly refers to herself as a heathen or pagan, she usually means to say that she has some residual belief, but not as much as her family would like her to have. This believer usually sees the inside of a church either as a tourist attraction, or on Christmas and Easter.

Which reminds me: Happy Easter, to all you heathens and idol worshipers! And to all the Christians who went on a hunt for quintessential pagan idol: the Easter Egg.

Selling Religion

Some people have said that the Ten Commandments represent the crown achievement of morals. Obviously, these people are mistaken. The majority of Christians, after a short, perhaps brutal discussion will agree that the commandments could have dramatically improved humanity had, for example, the first two commandments (I am the Lord, and Don’t blaspheme) been thou shalt have no slaves and thou shalt treat men and women as your equal instead.

So why aren’t they? Is God a moral lightweight? Why did the Ten Commands fall short? Believers say that the Commandments reflect the time that they were created; they were a political compromise. Had they been phrased more ethically aggressively – for example had they held imperatives to abolish slavery and institute gender equality – that would have prevented the belief from spreading. It was important to first get the people into your belief; afterwards you could then improve the standard, making everyone more moral.

Indeed, forcing men to give up slaves and treat former property (women) as their equal is a hard sell. From a political view, this makes sense. Creating a more moderate code of conduct would increase the likelihood of acceptance, and raising the bar afterwards is a sensible approach to improve society.

Yet that doesn’t make sense in a religious frame of reference. The very context of how the commandments were given, as narrated in the Bible (in Exodus) makes it abundantly clear that God could have demanded anything from his followers. Let’s look at this through the eyes of one of the Israelites in Exodus:

I had just witnessed God’s might first hand – a few days ago he parted the sea to let me through; then he drowned the entirety of Egypt’s army. That’s powerful stuff. So, I’d do my best to get on His good side. What’s that you say? He’s uncool with me selling my daughter into slavery and treating my wives as property? No worries, he’s bossman; I’ll play ball! After all, those were also pretty nasty plagues he visited upon that Pharaoh guy a couple weeks back. So, hell yeah, I’ll release my sex slaves and be nice to women. Hey, I see reason in the form of vastly superior might…

Arguing that after such a display of might it would have been politically unwise to demand ethical conduct from your subjects doesn’t make sense. God had just proven beyond any doubt that he was willing to enforce his word. Arguing that God tempered his commandments so more people found them palpable makes sense only under two assumptions: the story never happened, and you assume that God would not enforce his commandments – the very story that presents the commandments be damned.

Therefore, if you argue that the Ten Commandments reflect the time they were issued you also argue that there is no god to back them up. You admit that you have to sell your belief on the merits of the rules, not the might of your deity. Plus: hoping to increase the standard after the fact may work in modern day democracies. It doesn’t work in theocracies that rely on written scripture – scripture that can’t be changed after it was written. After all, the Ten Commandments haven’t changed much in three thousand years (except changing thou shalt not murder to not kill and don’t covet thy neighbor’s wives to wife, singular).

So this is what it comes down to: the Ten Commandments are not divinely inspired. They are a simpleton’s sales pitch.

Trojan Hoax

A great brouhaha has erupted about the fact that faith-based schools are teaching outrageous lies to children.

Really?

I mean – come on! What else do you expect? Did anyone really think that the lies would be limited to scripture? What kind of hypocrite thinks that one lie is different from another? What mental contortions do you have to make to think ‘God hates homosexuals’ and ‘you are lucky to be Muslims and not ignorant like Christians and Jews’ are somehow different?

This is no ‘Trojan Horse‘. Read the Odyssey. If you are morally backward or stupid enough to support faith based schools, don’t feign surprise when the teachers lie to your children. That’s what you pay them for.

Paging Dr. Mengele

Proving that ultra-orthodox Jews won’t be outdone by fanatical Moslems or fundamental Christians, Beit Shemesh (city of 75’000) Mayor Moshe Abutbul took to the airwaves and asserted that his belief was just as homophobic as the rest:

In a Friday interview on Channel 10, Abutbul, when asked about the presence of homosexuals in the city, said that “we have no such things…Thank God this city is holy and pure.” The mayor said that […] it was up to the Health Ministry and the police to “take care of them.”

Rabbi Yitzhak Hagar, a Beit Shemesh resident, agrees: as far as homosexuals are concerned,

“the central problem is a psychological problem, which needs treatment”

So, Moshe, Yitzhak — have you already contacted Dr. Mengele?

Plastic purity

 

An allegedly highly devout believer travels on a plane, covering himself in a plastic bag:

Douchebag

Douche in a bag (Image: Reddit)

According to this article the man covered “himself in a plastic bag for the whole of his journey because his religion forbids him to fly over cemeteries.”

Because? That’s like writing “Cars are black because Frank is a nice tree.” Conventionally, the word because is followed by an explanation. Like religion, this explains exactly nothing. What is going on here?

his religion forbids him to fly over cemeteries – Says who? I’m the first to admit that my knowledge of what’s written in Talmud and Torah is spotty at best, but I’m quite sure that commercial air travel isn’t covered in either. Air travel at that time usually consisted of either being thrown off a cliff, or being hurled bodily by a catapult. In both cases crossing a graveyard during transit would not have ranked high on anyone’s list of priorities, as it also was the foreseeable endpoint of the journey.

So this is already quite insane. But the ‘explanation’ gets even weirder:

The plastic bag creates a kind of barrier between the Kohein and the surrounding tumah, or impurity – Yeah, right! Because a 0.0005 inch plastic film covering the Kohein is so much better than the airtight sheet metal surrounding all passengers. It can’t be protection from ‘impure’ air – the man is breathing aircraft air; the oxygen in his bag wouldn’t last 15 minutes, causing him to suffocate even before take-off.
And – plastic? That isn’t covered in scripture either. Where do these guys get their guidance from?
If it’s plastic because it’s convenient – well, isn’t it even more convenient to just not do it? Or is it just holier-than-thou theatrics? His ‘purity’ certainly seems about as natural as the plastic bag

This looks suspiciously like some douche grandstanding his piousness. Never mind the fact that if this plane crashed, he would obstruct his seat neighbor’s escape route, ensuring that he, too, would end up in a body bag.

Bravo.

Just why again should we respect this?

Another Bishop, another Stupidity

In the tranquil valley of Erschmatt in Switzerland, a storm is brewing. The predominantly christian community has to deal with a shocking development that threatens the very fabric of their existence.

What has happened? In Switzerland religion is a subject that is taught in all schools. Presumably, the curriculum contains information about the world’s major religions. Edith Inderkummen, a catholic, has a degree in religious pedagogy from the University of Lucern, and was teaching religion and ethics at a local state school. Then she decided to convert to judaism. She was fired for this (warning: article in german).

The Bishop of Sitten revoked her license. He seems to believe that someone who has a degree in ethics and religion is unfit for teaching after committing the vile act of converting to a different religion.

This opens a couple of questions:

  • What exactly is taught in these religion classes? More importantly: what does the Bishop think is taught in these classes? Information about religions, or catholic indoctrination?
  • Officially the stance is that only someone who believes in gods can teach religion. Isn’t that like saying only someone who is a child can be a pediatrician? Or that only blind people can become ophthalmologists? But even if – the woman still believes in essentially the same god; it’s just that the belief is sold by a competitor.
  • Why does the Bishop think that converting to judaism makes someone unfit to teach Ethics? I agree that religion makes a bad ethical foundation, but does this Bishop really believe that his own bronze-age morals are better? I’m sure that – unlike the Bishop – someone with a degree in Ethics can differentiate between religious ‘morals’ and truly ethical behavior. All the Bishop has proven here is that he is unfit to teach ethics.

A lot went wrong here. But what went wrong most of all:

How the hell can a Bishop fire a teacher employed by a secular school?

Stupid is as stupid does

Under normal circumstances, if you managed to unite the Jewish, Muslim and Sikh communities behind a common cause, you’d be a shoe-in for the next Nobel Peace Prize. Unless, of course, you manage to unite them to picket your lawn. Bonus points for also managing to have the Christians sniping at you from across the street.

And this is exactly what happened in Quebec: the minority government run by the secular Parti Québécois (PQ) seems so accustomed to being the minority that they never realized that the minorities they antagonized, taken together, make up the majority of voters. And antagonize them they did.

As reported by Time, their proposed ‘Charter of Values’ contains language that would disallow too obvious religious symbols or garments to be worn by

“government workers and employees of institutions that receive public funds—from judges, school teachers and police officers to doctors and daycare staffers. A cartoonish graphic released last week illustrates the types of symbols that would be banned to them (Muslim head coverings of all kinds, skull caps, turbans and especially large crucifixes[…]). And the plan would also require all members of the public to uncover their faces when giving or receiving a state service, like applying for a driver’s license.”

To be clear about this: I think the underlying idea is ethically sound. It’s just that PQ handled this issue with all the grace, elegance and subtlety of a stampeding herd of elephants. It seems that, as a primarily secular party, the PQ strategists thought that the politically correct way to get rid of a real problem (burkas and head veils) was a shotgun approach: To evenly spread restrictions over all major beliefs. They probably thought that if everyone had to give a little, they’d be more likely to agree. It never occurred to them that everyone just might agree to give you the finger.

All this just goes to show that religious people don’t have a monopoly on doing something silly. PQ has shown that seculars can be just as monumentally stupid as the rest.

Well, at least we have something that unites us all.

Why Islam beats Christianity and Judaism

According to this Wahhabi preacher (and assuming the translation is correct), the promise of Islam’s Paradise beats that of Christianity or Judaism hands down – by at least 5’041:1!

“Every Muslim man gets at least two black-eyed virgins in Paradise. Each virgin comes with 70 servant girls. You are permitted [to have sex] with the virgins as well as the servant girls. […] [Your wife enters Paradise] with 70 black-eyed virgins. In Paradise you get your wife and her virgins, each of whom come with 70 servants.”

In cold math this comes down to 2 * 70 (own virgins, servants) + 1 (wifey) + 70 * 70 (wifey’s virgins and servants) = 5’041 sex toys for you. More if you are married to more wives.

Only two questions:

  1. Are the wife’s virgins female? Why? Isn’t Allah supposed to be fair?
  2. More importantly: what’s the surcharge to exchange the virgins for experienced women?

I know I should’t joke about the hateful misogyny preached here, but this was just too silly not to post. To think that people actually believe this. And to be a preacher who preaches his personal wet dream to his flock.

Pathetic.