Monday, October 8, 2007

One size fits all my butt!

I have long considered the possibility that I may be religious.
Allow me to pause a moment while those who know me well wipe whatever it is that they were drinking from their screens, keyboards and sinuses.
It's true, I don't tend to hold religion in the highest regard, although lately I've come to think that it's perhaps not the nature of religion itself that causes so much torture and pain in the world, but the silly people who use it to justify cutting off their own testicles and forcing other people not to enjoy themselves.
I've just finished reading Robert Winston's The Story of God, which, apart from being very informative and a wonderful companion to Sophie's World (a young adult primer on philosophy from Socrates to Foucault), seemed to hold the view that religion resulted in the quite evolutionary need for soft pink monkeys to hang around in groups in order to survive. This, coupled with the evolved monkey brain's need to explain the things it couldn't (ie. What's the sound? and How did this banana get here?), formed a sort of mud-map of existence and meaning.
A + B = C
Water + Dirt = Mud
Og + Punch = Fight
Dancing + Chanting = Rain
Sacrifice + Gold = Prosperity
No Prosperity + More Virgins = More Sacrifice
That kind of thing.

Read in conjunction with
Sophie's World, The Story of God allowed most religions I had heard of to make sense. Religion is very similar to philosophy in that it attempts to explain the world. I think religion is a bit more proactive in that it attempts to explain what to do once you've explained the world, which is probably why it gets into so many fights with science. Science is still stuck on the first bit about how the world works while religion seems to behave much like the impatient maths student I once was, throwing the answer sheet on the teacher's desk and bounding out the door without bothering to show all working out.
I admire that in religion. It's a very selfish philosophy, really. Not in a bad way either. If the answer seems right to you, who is anyone else to say any different? We're not talking about numbers here folks, we're talking about whether you should steal, swear or have sex with certain kinds of people! It must be very gratifying to follow a religion and be right about these questions all the time.
Swearing? No! Never!
Sex with boys? No! Evil!
Fish on Fridays? Yum yum yum!
See what I mean? Always the correct answer! You don't get that kind of positive reinforcement anywhere else!
I do have a tiny philosophical issue with religion in that since I regard all people as different, I think that every single person needs their own code of practice. What's great for one person isn't necessarily wicked cool for someone else. That kind of thing. Religion doesn't really provide for that diversity of people in society. Each religion has its own set of rules to be followed and most religions have great rules: don't hurt other people, be nice to your parents, be nice to your children, don't steal, etc, etc, etc. You see where Robert Winston got his enthusiasm for the theory that religion developed out of a need for physically defenceless monkeys to form groups to survive. The monkeys that had the best groups survived and the best groups tended to have least number of thieving arseholes in them - hence the rules. 'Follow these or you're on your own the next time a sabre-toothed tiger turns up'. Good incentive, that.
But these days sabre-toothed tiger numbers are down, sadly. Monkeys are up. Yet the rules remain. They're still great rules, but mostly self-evident, I feel. The problem is that the rules still seem to be under some kind of moral copyright, as though the values and modes of nice human behaviour were held in holy patent offices, stamped and traded to the thankful consumer.
'Oh, thank [insert deity] I did not kill my parents!'
'Praise [insert deity] that this beautiful day exists/my lotto numbers came up/I got the job!'
It's entirely ego-centric of me, but having lived a life entirely without religion, I am yet to come across a moral conundrum that I couldn't sort out myself. Of course, there have been a few fuck-ups along the way, but I own those. They were all part of the learning process.
And here comes the schism between my own beliefs about correct moral behaviour and religion:
I don't think that you should tell other people how to live.
That's it. The difference between my perfect ethos of life and religion is that I don't think other people should follow this rule, because it's not even a rule yet. It's just a philosophy, a theory that could be proven wrong at any second! But I'm pretty confident it won't be.
Religion has a whole set of these rules and explanations that have kept billions of people happy for thousands of years, so it can't be doing too badly for itself . But it's still telling people what to do and how to live without letting anybody figure it out for themselves. This might seem tough to live by, just letting people do what they want and trusting that they will do the right thing, but remember, I'm not peddling answers and explanations here - this is all about me.
Get your own.

The thing I do admire about religion is its art and its rituals. To the right here you will see my favourite building ever. It is the Cologne Cathedral and is, without exception, the most remarkable thing I have ever seen. I will write about my first, exquisite encounter with it another day. Without religion, it would not exist. Would anything be in its place? The answer to that is as pointless as the question and best left to fiction, but churches can be incredible things to behold. But, being devoid of religious influence, they simply cause me to wonder at the glory and talents of human beings, rather than explain my rapture through some intangible feeling about the inexplicable.

The ritual is another aspect that I find strangely attractive; comforting even. To me every religious ritual from prayer to blessings to yearly festivals seems utterly meaningless, but soothing, fun and calming nonetheless. Rituals are that aspect of religion that causes the individual to stop all else, re-centre, re-focus and engage with whatever explanations for existence, meaning, hope, despair and life they have in their brains. I imagine it's like the comfort a mild sufferer of obsessive-compulsion feels when they switch the light off for the second time, safe in the knowledge that it didn't blow the instant they turned it off. The engagement of ritual sets the scene for a world about to be put right and its completion brings satisfaction and strength within the self.

I said at the beginning of this post that I have considered the possibility that I may be religious. I'm not, but I do have a ritual. A calming, meditative state that can be achieved only at a certain time of day and under the correct conditions. Those conditions aren't always present, but not a day goes by when, at 6pm, wherever I am, my mind enters its own little prayer-room and, if fortune is with me, my body follows. Here is my own personal ritual for calm and peace, followed by a call to prayer:
At 5:55pm I finish all activities, save all documents, close all webpages, bookmark all pages, stack all papers and remove my shoes. I go to the fridge. I select a bottle of Cooper's Pale Ale and place it in a stubby holder. I do not remove the cap, but I ensure to invert it gently to allow the yeasty mud to trickle through the sweet, heady liquid, just as my own troubles dissipate and disperse, diluted with perspective and calm. I fetch a packet of fancy chips. Never plain, never chicken. Every day needs a luxury, a treat, a reward for feeling happy and a salve for feeling sad. I banish all others, sit comfortably in front of the television and watch Jane Riley visit another part of the Adelaide microcosm to report the weather. I watch the post-news Channel Ten plug and am grateful that I don't care about whatever it's talking about. Life is good.
The music starts:

GTH: For those of you who just skip to the end of the writing for a grab at glory on a the world's 1,803,855th most popular website, the winner is The Other, other Sam. It was indeed taken at 2006's Adelaide Arts Festival Opening Night. There were dozens of beautiful floating globes drifting around the river, forever ingrained into the minds of the hundreds of Adelaidians who were so thoroughly disappointed at the school pageant/lighting warehouse clearance sale that was the OzAsia Opening Night. However, there are points to River and Neil for their kick-arse jokes.
I also mentioned in the last comment thread that there would be a joke-related competition this post. So: dirtiest joke wins. That's it. Make of it what you will. Nothing shall be censored, unless it's racist or in any way supports the Dutch.


  1. Deconstruction time.

    Science is still stuck on the first bit about how the world works...

    Science isn't stuck on finding out how the world works. Science is finding out how the world works.

    ...while religion seems to behave much like the impatient maths student I once was, throwing the answer sheet on the teacher's desk and bounding out the door without bothering to show all working out.

    Religion never plays the role of student - it always wants to be the teacher. And if I was going to compare religion to a high school subject, I'd be more inclined to go with creative writing than mathematics.

    I don't think that you should tell other people how to live.

    No, but I do think you should ask them about it. Ask them why they live how they live, why they do what they do - not so you can tell them they're wrong, but so that they consider the questions.

    Religion has a whole set of these rules and explanations that have kept billions of people happy for thousands of years.

    Happy. Content. Complacent. Ignorant. Unquestioning. Opiate of the masses, bread and circuses.

    The thing I do admire about religion is its art and its rituals.

    Can't argue with the art, there aren't too many atheist masterpieces lying around. Rituals are more of a grey area. The ritualistic nature of injecting heroin has been suggested as one reason why it's harder to kick the habit. That said I'm not against ritualistic behaviour - so long as you question it every now and then.

    To me that is the crux of it - the heart of science, skepticism and atheism lies in the question itself. Ask questions of others, but most importantly question your own beliefs, rituals, and way of life. Seek education, be curious, evaluate things critically.

    Of course, now I'm telling you how to live.

  2. Nice post. I've only ever seen Cologne Cathedral from the back, from the railway station, while our train stopped there for maybe three minutes. But it was impressive even then.

    I know I don't have a chance here, but the photo is almost certainly of a stained glass window taken from inside the building, so I'll guess it's the aforementioned Koln Cathedral.

  3. Good meaty post, Franzy.
    As a Sunday School kid of Uniting Church parents who still go (mostly to chat afterwards) -I completely agree with you. That original beardy weirdy with the sandals and penchant for making bread and fish feed unplanned-for guests had a few good things to say though

  4. Hmmm, a post on religion...risky!!!

    For me it's more about faith than religion. I believe in what I want to believe in and let other people do the same without judgment. And I believe that's the key in it all... being a certain religion or part of a certain belief system is not the problem... it's when one judges another for what they believe in that it becomes screwed up. What is right for you, is exactly that, right for YOU - and that's where it needs to begin and end. Enjoy your own faith and let others enjoy theirs WITHOUT judgment. In my opinion, that's the secret to a more peaceful world.

  5. 327 - DeconRecon!

    Science isn't stuck on finding out how the world works. Science is finding out how the world works.

    - When I say "stuck" I still mean that it has much work to do, things to find out. Science isn't philosophy and wandering what to do, science is always the next logical step towards further knowledge. I feel that religion behaves as though science's job was finished.
    That's where my analogy with the impatient student comes in - religion often behaves as though it worked out all the answers correctly and to perfection, no need for questioning or checking! Let's go out and use our poorly-worked out conclusions!

    And yes, sadly religion has not been the friend of scientific thought and agitative ideas, but I think we are at the beginning of that stage of human development. Watch this space for another thousand or so years...

    Happy. Content. Complacent. Ignorant. Unquestioning. Opiate of the masses, bread and circuses.

    Well - yeah, but in the absence of any better descriptions, what were the monkeys going to do? Develop theories of wind resistance and biodiversity? I think that's where we go from here, with questions.

    And with rituals? Sure, rituals aren't generally great things because they are designed to avoid questioning. I just happen to like mine.

    ...the heart of science, skepticism and atheism lies in the question itself.

    Atheism is an interesting word here, because it denies the existence of any kind of deity or higher, unknowable, unattainable power. I am actually uncomfortable with the argument itself because I feel that atheism occupies one side of a debate, which necessarily acknowledges a need to engage with the other theistic viewpoint (however violently). From my point of view, there is no debate.

    Of course, now I'm telling you how to live.

    But I'm learning from that. And blog comments are a lot nicer than being burnt at the stake.

    Jono - You've got to see the Cathedral. Just got to. I will try to articulate it in a future post.

    Milly Moo - I think Douglas Adams said it best, and I will paraphrase here because I don't have a copy of Hitchhiker's to Hand: "The man who was nailed to a tree for suggesting that everyone be nice to each other for a change"
    I guess that's also part of my point: how hard is it to be nice to people? Why do we need religion to perpetuate this moral standpoint?

    Shelley - Yes, exactly what I'm saying. Except for the bit about faith, I'd rather know something than believe in it. I would also opt for accepting that I just didn't know, rather than building up my faith in hope and my hope in faith.

  6. Isn't knowing and believing partly the same when it comes to faith?

    If you BELIEVE in something as part of your faith, then doesn't KNOWING it kind of given? If you are already giving yourself an "out" in case you might be wrong, it's not really trusting in the faith you have in the first place.
    I guess there is no tangible way to "know" something to do with faith in the physical or scientific sense.
    I just feel weird saying that I believe in something without knowing it is true as well. That's the whole point behind putting your trust in faith.
    To me anyway....

    I feel more than uncomfortable talking about this stuff in a public way. I also find it so interesting that it's hard not to chime in. Anyway, I promise I'll leave it here!!!

  7. By the power vested in my by
    The Simpsons, Futurama and The Family Guy.
    Thanks by to Groening

  8. Not very dirty but meh, it made me laugh.

    A man walks into a pharmacy, buys a condom, then walks out of the store laughing hysterically. The pharmacist thinks this is weird, but, hey, there's no law preventing weird people from buying condoms. Maybe it's a good thing.

    The next day, the man comes back to the store, purchases another condom, and once again he leaves the store laughing wildly. This piques the interest of the pharmacist. What's so funny about buying a condom, anyway?

    So he tells his clerk, "If this guy ever comes back, I want you to follow him to see where he goes."

    Sure enough, the next day the laugher is back. He buys the condom, starts cracking up, then leaves. The pharmacist tells his clerk to go follow the guy.

    About an hour later, the clerk comes back to the store. "Did you follow him? Where did he go?" asks the pharmacist. The clerk replies "Your house."

  9. I agrre with the statement "I don't think that you should tell other people how to live". If more people did this there would probably be fewer wars (religious wars anyway). I also agree with 327th male how they live and why they live that way, but not to make them consider the questions so much as to invite the sharing of ideas, values, philosophies, to learn new ways of considering things ourselves. We already do this in the cooking industry, how many of us own and use italian, french, chinese, thai,etc. cookbooks?
    Like shelley, I believe in what i want to believe in and let others do the same. Individuality is important. Even within organised religions people can interpret what they've heard and learnt in their own way.
    Way back in the mists of time when man was just beginning rituals and religion were important to keep groups together and functioning, but as mankind grew to larger numbers, questioning these ideas, to be able to grow in different directions was also good. How boring if everyone was the same forevermore. From here on questioning, sharing and learning from others should be the way to go.

  10. The penis requests a promotion and a raise for the following reasons:
    1. Has to work hard.
    2. Has to work upside down.
    3. Has no ventilation or air conditioning in the workplace.
    4. Has to work in a high humidity environment.
    5. Does not get weekends or holidays off.
    Request denied for the following reasons:
    1. Does not work 8 hours in a row.
    2. Does not answer immediately to all requests.
    3. After a short activity period, falls asleep at work.
    4. Does not work at all unless pushed from behind.
    5. Does not leave the workplace clean after finishing work.

    P.S. Pretty window picture, love the sunbeams.

  11. Totally excellent!
    Tell me 327 - do you draw it yourself?

  12. Excellent!

    You're thinking agrees with mine to a degree that's almost frightening. After growing up in a religious home (and I mean religious -- home school so that we could have the Bible in science classes, Young Earth Creationism, et cetera) I decided that it was all bull-shit. Evolutionary biology and Ecology showed me that there was a need for religion after all, from a social/developmental point of view. And finally, the idea that telling other people how to live is "bad" solidified my ideas about personal, rather than organized, religion. Every religion should be personal, one person per religion, and as many religions as there are people.

    The one thing you didn't mention, but alluded to, is that there's a psychological need for the ritual that religion provides. The myths and legends and morality stories, and the ritual that goes along with all of it, provides a psychological mooring. Joseph Campbell in Hero of a Thousand Faces provides an excellent discussion of the root of religious myth in the human collective unconscious, the shared effect of the experiences we all share from simply being human. Well worth reading, if you're into that sort of thing.

    Anyhoo, thanks for the post, it was good to read, and nice to know that other people are reaching the same conclusions I am. Makes the world a little less lonely.

  13. I wonder if religion causes more harm than good because it's open to exploitation and manipulation by even well-meaning people.

  14. In an attempt to win more of these blog comps than the Murphmeister-General, I submit the following (sorry Mum):

    Q. What do you get if your donkey eats the legs off your rooster?
    A. 2-feet of cock in your arse!

    Zing! (ouch)

    While I am on a random tangent:
    I have decided to use this medium as my platform to attempt to bring the word "Muppetational" (adj) to the fore of popular vocabulary.

    1. Inspiring wonder or excitement.
    2. Excellent, exciting, remarkable.

    "That was Muppetational!!!".

    And don't bother Urbandictionarying it - You heard it here first!

  15. Muppetational-I like it.

    On jokes-the well is dry. when you wanted clean all I could remember was all the "off" jokes my mum told me. Now you want those and I can't remember a single one. Bits of jokes, but not the whole joke.

  16. Why is virginity like a balloon?
    One prick and it's gone.

  17. Two gay condoms are walking down the street. One turns to the other and says "So what are you up to tonight?", the other says,
    "Going to get shit-faced, you?".

    Whats the definition of Gross?
    Asking your Grandfather for a job and he takes out his false teeth.

    Homer be with you...

  18. A throw-down!!?

    You have my respect Murphmeister, and my attention...

  19. Back to religion - we were watching Ross Noble's 'Randomist' DVD last night and one of the audience members asked if he was religious. His answer was (after laughing) "I belong to the barrow religion: I'll go if I'm pushed."

  20. Those aren't sunbeams, sunshine. That's rusted out corrugated iron!
    Must be an Australian cathedral....


An explanation of The Joy Division Litmus Test

Although it may now be lost in the mysts of thyme, the poll below is still relevant to this blog. In the winter of 2008, Mele and I went to live in Queensland. In order to survive, I bluffed my way into a job at a Coffee Club.
It was quite a reasonable place to work: the hours were regular, the staff were quite nice, it wasn't particularly taxing on my brain.
There were a few downsides: In the six weeks or so that I worked there, there was about a 90% staff turnover (contributed to by my leaving). This wasn't seen as a result of the low pay, the laughability of staff prices or the practice of not distributing tips to staff, rather it was blamed on the lack of work ethic among Bribie Island's youth.
However, one of the stranger aspects of the cultural isolation that touched our lives during our time "up there" was the fact that nobody at my work had heard of the band Joy Division.
The full explanation is available here.
But please, interact a little further and vote in my ongoing poll. The results are slowly mounting up, proving one thing: people read this blog are more well-informed about Joy Division than anyone who works at the Coffee Club on Bribie Island.

Have you heard of the band Joy Division?

Chinese food, not Chinese Internet!

Champions of Guess The Header

  • What is Guess The Header about? Let’s ask regular “Writing” reader, Shippy: "Anyway, after Franzy's stunning September, and having a crack at 'Guess The Header' for the first time - without truly knowing what I was doing mind you - I think I finally understand what 'GTH' is all about. At first I thought you needed to actually know what it was. Don't get me wrong — if you know what it is, it may help you. I now realise that it's more Franzy's way of invoking thought around an image or, more often than not, part of an image. If you dissect slightly the GTH explanatory sentence at the bottom of his blog you come up with this: “The photo is always taken by me and always connects in some way to the topic of the blog entry it heads up.” When the header is put up, the blog below it will in some obscure way have something to do with it. “Interesting comments are judged and scored arbitrarily and the process is open to corruption and bribery with all correspondence being entered into after the fact and on into eternity, ad infinitum amen.” Franzy judges it, but it's not always the GTH that describes the place perfectly that gets it. “The frequent commenters, the wits, the wags and the outright smartarses who, each entry, engage to both guess the origin and relevance of the strip of photo at the top (or “head”) of each new blog and also who leave what I deem the most interesting comment.” It generally helps if you're a complete smartarse and can twist things to mean whatever you feel they should mean - exactly the way Franzy would like things to be twisted." - Shippy Blogger and GTH point scorer.
  • Nai - 1
  • Lion Kinsman - 2
  • Will - 2
  • Brocky - 2
  • Andy Pants - 2
  • The 327th Male - 3
  • Mad Cat Lady - 3
  • Miles McClagen - 4
  • Myninjacockle - 4
  • Asheligh - 5
  • Neil - 5
  • Third Cat - 5
  • Adam Y - 6
  • Squib - 6
  • Mele - 6
  • Moifey - 7
  • Jono - 8
  • The Other, other Sam - 14
  • Kath Lockett - 15
  • Shippy - 19
  • River - 32