Veterans of the atheosphere might recognize Zoroastrianism as the ancient Persian religion whose Mithraic component is the best-attested antecedent for many Christian traditions, such as celebrating the birth of Jesus on 25 December. What I didn’t know is that Zoroastrianism is a living religion, with active fire temples singing the praises of the god Ahura Mazda and a world membership of over 200,000, a surprising fraction of which live in Canada. I can only imagine how they feel about freethinkers using their history as one of many disproofs of Christianity. My guess? Weirdly flattered.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
Friday, October 24, 2014
The Raëlians are close to my heart. One of their subsidiaries, the biotech company Clonaid, announced in 2002 within spitting distance of my hometown that they were growing an army of human clones and were picking out an island off the coast of Brazil to finish their project. Naturally, the clones never materialized, nor did any way to verify that they were not blowing smoke up people’s nether orifices, but this stunt kept genetics at the forefront of people’s minds for another decade and kept my neck of the woods in the news, so I can’t complain too loudly. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Raëlians are mostly in the news lately for their occasional parades of topless women (in protest of laws that criminalize female but not male toplessness) and advocacy of comprehensive sex education.
For those who don’t know, the Raëlians are a UFO cult founded by former French car magazine writer and teen pop star Claude Vorilhon in 1973. He founded the cult after an encounter in a volcanic crater with a flying saucer, which convinced him to rename himself “Raël, messenger of the Elohim.” This encounter totally did not involve enough LSD to convince a sperm whale it could fly, no really.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Saturday, October 18, 2014
Hello again! This week’s apocalypse comes from a bit farther in time and space than the Islamic mythos previously explored. In the mountains of 6th-century-BCE Nepal, the Buddha and his most prominent disciples waxed lyrical about an endworld scenario like no other. As Buddhism would have it, civilization will end as the world suffers a steady increase in “unskillful” behavior.
That’s…remarkably reasonable. Civilization falls apart as a result of an epidemic of incompetence? I’d almost buy it, given the special class of nincompoop that seems to occupy too many government offices, including those armed with the ability to render vast swaths of the world uninhabitable for decades. Apparently the Three Stooges are prophets of slapstick.
Monday, October 13, 2014
In the various circles I have inhabited, I have always, always been the one who is most okay with creepy-crawlies. My friends and family alternately flee from or declare pogroms on the multi-legged urban wildlife they encounter, unless I am around. Then, they notice the demanding smolder in my eyes and let me escort the errant creatures outside, away from insistent shoes.
It’s a cliché, but most of those creatures are not dangerous, only misunderstood.
Thursday, October 9, 2014
As part of the lead-up to Centre for Inquiry Ottawa’s Eschaton 2012 conference, Celebrating Reason at the End of the World, I wrote a feature called Apocalypse When, a brief lampooning of some of the many eschatological visions and scenarios that have gained or maintained popularity over the centuries. Eschaton2012.ca is defunct now, so I’m reprising my creation here.
This week’s apocalypse is the one envisioned in the Qur’an and various hadiths and thus central to most interpretations of Islam. Unfortunately, the details of this scenario are dispersed across numerous suras and hadiths, but a few themes and tidbits stand out.
Monday, October 6, 2014
I owe a lot of my social life to Facebook. I joined at a close friend’s suggestion back when it was still thefacebook.com, back when it was university-only and I could refer to people’s profile images as their “Facebook photos” because it hadn’t yet become the largest image-hosting service on the planet. It rapidly became a low-effort way for me to stay apprised of my friends’ activities and life events, a way to occasionally meet new people, and a way to rapidly get basic info about people I’d just met elsewhere and figure out whether I wanted to deal with them any further. Facebook was a big part of how I came out as an atheist, among other instances of shedding secrecy, and it continues to be part of how I explore and define myself. I have an extended network of like-minded fellows largely because Facebook let me become far better informed about people than AOL Instant Messenger or face-to-face contact ever would.
This widening of my horizons is made possible by the way social networks like Facebook combine a personal statement, a connection diagram, and a 24-hour cocktail party. Only in this cocktail party, it’s not just okay but intentional and expected that everyone is constantly eavesdropping on everyone else to degrees that would get people thrown out of regular parties. Communication no longer has to be direct, immediate, and personal, and anything that takes the need for synchronicity out of talking to people meets with my swift approval. I do not have the time, energy, or inclination to stay on top of all of the people whose life events interest me or vice versa, except by a channel like this.
So it baffles me that the otherwise consistently wonderful Wait But Why has arranged for people talking about their own life events, in and of itself, to occupy all seven entries in a list of “Seven Ways to be Insufferable on Facebook.” This person, in no uncertain terms, finds other people sharing good or bad news about their own affairs to be a personal affront, a way by which people extract pleasure from others without offering them anything in return.
I am blown away by the sheer narcissism of this concept.
Monday, September 29, 2014
Of all the phrases theists use to lull themselves to sleep each night, “atheists have faith just like we do” might be the most obnoxious.
“Faith” is one of several word games believers play with nonbelievers when they’re feeling dishonest, alongside “spirituality” and, beautifully, “belief.” These games bank on how deviously slippery those words are, as they can mean more-or-less whatever the person using them wants them to mean. While all of these games are infuriating, “faith” gets under my skin more than the others, because it is somehow more dishonest.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Monday, September 22, 2014
As many readers are undoubtedly aware, this past week the people of Scotland held a long-awaited referendum on whether to become an independent country. What, exactly, this means has been more confusing than it should have been, because Scotland exists at a nexus of confusion within the mess of terms used to describe that general region of Europe. With my trusty Imaginary Correspondent, let’s sort that out.
Imaginary Correspondent: I find Britishness quaint and also confusing. Where do we start?