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April 22, 2010

Some guy in a bear suit
Posted by Teresa at 06:59 PM * 518 comments

The Daily Mail says Matt Stone and Trey Parker have been warned by Islamists that they could face violent retribution for depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a bear suit on an episode of South Park. As the Daily Mail put it:

The creators of TV show South Park have been warned by Islamists they could face violent retribution for depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a bear suit.
I don’t feel I understand this. How can they be showing the Prophet Muhammad if he’s wearing a bear suit? You can’t see him. All you can see is the bear suit. In fact, they could just be claiming it’s the Prophet Muhammad, when actually it’s someone completely different in the suit.

Is it still blasphemous if they’re depicting a bear suit worn by someone who says he’s the Prophet Muhammad, but really isn’t? How about if Matt Stone and Trey Parker know the guy in the suit isn’t the Prophet Muhammad? Do they have to say so in the cartoon? Does it stop being blasphemy if they do?

How about if everyone who sees it knows the guy in the bear suit isn’t the Prophet Muhammad, and the guy in the suit is crazy and doesn’t know what he’s doing so it isn’t his fault?

Is it more blasphemous if a guy wearing a bear suit and claiming to be the Prophet Muhammad does so in person, or is it more blasphemous if it happens in a cartoon?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Comments on Some guy in a bear suit:
#1 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 07:26 PM:

I thought the Prophet (peace be upon him) always wore a bear suit. I haven't seen any contemporary pictures of him that DON'T show him in a bear suit.

#2 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 07:26 PM:

There are no portraits of him not in a gorilla suit either, Xopher.

#3 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 07:29 PM:

Tch! Fragano, you're being silly! Why would the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) wear a gorilla suit?! That's just crazy talk.

#5 ::: Madeline Ashby ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 07:30 PM:

Is it a Pedobear suit?

#6 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 07:38 PM:

No, Madeleine. It would have to be an unimpeachably virtuous bear. Anything else would be disrespectful.

#7 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 07:39 PM:

I thought only the French didn't know who was in the bear suit?

#8 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 07:46 PM:

If the threats to Stone & Parker get serious, I believe the proper response would be for everyone in the country to wear a Prophet in a Bear Suit button, T-shirt, boxer shorts, or etc.

#9 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 07:46 PM:

Schroedinger's Prophet?

#10 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 07:47 PM:

Jim, that's from the remake of The Wicker Man? How did the bear suit get into the story? Worse, why?

#11 ::: Chris Eagle ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 07:50 PM:

@10: Modern audiences can't be expected to recognise Mr Punch, but they know Pedobear.

#12 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 07:54 PM:

ah, but maybe the idea is that "depicting as" is an act of the will which does entail a "depicting".

like so: suppose i say, i hereby depict mt. everest as a caret: ^

i expressed the intention to depict mt. everest as a caret, or to depict it by means of a caret. and even though it's not a very illuminating depiction, there's some sense on which i have, indeed, depicted mt. everest as a caret.


and that's still true even if i replace the caret with any other mark. (i would have depicted it as an asterisk, but the aerial view costs more).

now suppose you have the further thought that by depicting mt. everest as a caret, i have ipso facto depicted mt. everest. "depicting as" is just a way of depicting, and the qualifier can be dropped salva veritate.

if there were a prohibition on depicting mt. everest, then one might conclude that i had violated it, just by expressing the intention to depict it, even as something else.

i don't endorse any of the steps in that argument, of course. but i do offer it as one possible reconstruction of the crazy.

and to the extent it is right, it shows that what they want to prohibit is the intending itself. it's almost like what they want to control is people's thoughts.

#13 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 07:57 PM:

kid bitzer, I'm very glad indeed that you're part of the Fluorosphere.

#14 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 08:07 PM:

A part of me would have been even more amused had Pedobear been used, but I have decided that I like the whole idea better without pulling that additional issue into it.

#15 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 08:14 PM:

kid bitzer, I concur with TexAnne. Also, you cwazy, dude.

#16 ::: abg zl erny anzr ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 08:19 PM:

v guvax vg vf gbb qnatrebhf gb gnyx nobhg guvf va choyvp, hayrff lbh ner cebgrpgrq ol n ernfbanoyr yriry bs nabalzvgl

#17 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 08:29 PM:

@13,@15,

awww.... you guys are too nice. what a generous thing to say. i'm touched. and, as xopher points out, tetched.

#18 ::: Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 08:32 PM:

By now, isn’t there a long line of people who are offended to the point of violence by something that appeared on South Park? The Islamists will just have to take a number.

#19 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 08:37 PM:

The question that isn't being asked is how Muhammed would feel about being depicted within a bear suit?

Bears weren't much common where Muhammed lived.

However, going by the sutras and Muhammed apocrypha, he quite liked and appreciated animals. By these indications, also, the Quran, he also liked and respected children, women and other points of view.

So, in my opinion, both sides here r doin it rong.

But then, what do I know, who has eschewed the blatancy of television broadcast into my life for decades -- though terribly appreciative that now I can see the good stuff one way or tother via other means!

Love, C.

#20 ::: Sean Sakamoto ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 08:40 PM:

Having grown up around some serious religion, I think you folks are totally overthinking fundamentalist nutjobbery.

The whole point of being a fanatic is that you can saw the heads off of bad people, or at the very least, get worked into a self-righteous rage to distract yourself from the fact that life sucks.

So, someone makes a cartoon that doesn't glorify God. That is a suspicious act. Then they mention a prophet, but not in the right way, there's a joke going on, or something...something that doesn't make you want to throw up your hands and say 'Praise the Lord' or 'Allah Akbar' at the end of their utterance.

At this point your mouth should begin to froth. Remember how you were bored and life seemed meaningless and your future looked bleak? You can forget that now. All of it. Let the waves of rage and indignation bathe your mind in a righteous chemical wash.

Now it's time to clean your gun and talk to God. Another reprieve from monotony, brought to you by Pat Robertson or Frank Fatwa. A bear costume! How DARE THEY!

#21 ::: Sarah E ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 08:47 PM:

Didn't South Park *already* do a 2-part episode that was basically about this? (Everyone freaked out because Mohammed got mentioned on Family Guy, whose writers turned out to be manatees, who refuse artistic compromise.)

#22 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 08:59 PM:

@19--

don't forget elisha!

#23 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 09:23 PM:

Seth @18: By now, isn’t there a long line of people who are offended to the point of violence by something that appeared on South Park?

That right there is, in fact, the premise of the South Park episode in question: All of the celebrities the show has ever offended are banding together and threatening to destroy the town. This is part of a plot to kidnap Muhammed, so they can extract the magical element that makes people refrain from making fun of him, and inject it into themselves.

It's a two-parter, and I don't know if the second half has been shown yet.

#24 ::: Throwmearope ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 09:33 PM:

I had a serious conversation about this topic (when the Danish cartoonist was first being threatened) with a westernized but still very devout follower of Islam. His point of view was that non-Moslems should not discuss Islam. Ever. Period. End. Even praise of Islam from a non-follower is somehow unwelcome.

Stumped me. I still don't get it.

#25 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 09:52 PM:

Throwmearope @ #24 "Stumped me. I still don't get it."

Er, yeah. A real conversation-stopper, that attitude.

#26 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 10:24 PM:

I wouldn't discuss ANYTHING with that person. "Sorry, non-linguists should never discuss language, ever." "Sorry, non-chocolatiers should never discuss chocolate, ever." "Sorry, I'm not a person who goes to Florida on vacation, so I don't want to have any conversations with you about your vacation there."

The universal caption applies.

#27 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 10:34 PM:

WAIT! Hold on a second? Mohammed in a BEAR SUIT? Why, this means, Mohammed and Robert Smith ARE THE SAME PERSON!!!!!

#28 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 10:40 PM:

(Crap. When I referenced Robert Smith's bear costume in the Why Can't I Be You video, I hadn't seen it in a while. I forgot that the video is problematic, and contains a blackface portrayal, which I just noticed rewatching it. Sorry about inflicting that on folks.)

#29 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 11:05 PM:

Thowmearope @ 24: "His point of view was that non-Moslems should not discuss Islam. Ever. Period. End. Even praise of Islam from a non-follower is somehow unwelcome."

I'm guessing his point of view is heavily influenced by the fact that nine times out of ten non-Muslims discussing Islam are making fun of it, or pointing out how it really is a primitive religion that makes its followers uncivilized and uncivilizable, or something along those lines. If he uses a "this person doesn't know what they're talking about" counter-argument to dismiss the negative views, then shouldn't he apply the same logic to the positive ones? Not the keenest logic ever, but points for consistency. Then again, would this thread give him much cause to reconsider?

#30 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 11:36 PM:

Why is it okay to show Mohamed in a bear suit, but not okay to show a black-face performer?

#31 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 11:39 PM:

If they put the Pope in a little boy suit, and have Mohammed In A Bear Suit eat him, does that make it any better? Or does there need to be Rousseau In A Bald Elisha Suit nearby?

#32 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 11:51 PM:

Why is it okay to show Mohamed in a bear suit, but not okay for Patrick Roscoe to call Colleen Lindsay "silly woman"?

#33 ::: hapax ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2010, 11:59 PM:

A perfect storm of the First and Second Amendments, here.

Defend the Prophet's (pboh) right to bear arms!

#34 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 12:01 AM:

Jim @30, actually, I think there was a blackface joke in the South Park ep as well. It seems to have been in the second half, which I haven't seen. Maybe Patrick Roscoe shows up too.

#35 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 12:18 AM:

Pffft. I could climb that: ^

#36 ::: VictorS ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 12:33 AM:

Objects in browser may be larger than they appear, Stefan.

#37 ::: Jeff Davis ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 12:33 AM:

Jim Macdonald @ 30 and 32: Yes, showing Muhammad in a bear suit is tasteless and disrespectful, and at its worst that sort of thing panders to and perpetuates anti-Muslim bigotry. On the other hand, as far as I know, no one is seriously threatening violent retribution over your other two examples.

#38 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 12:51 AM:

Jim, insofar as I can make out the lyrics, the song's about that (imo rather icky) kind of infatuation where you want to become the object of your admiration. In that context, blackface is appropriate.

I don't think it's appropriate to blaspheme Muhammad. I was dazzled by the idea that an otherwise unidentifiable man (or, for all we know, woman) in a bear suit is a blasphemous representation of Muhammad solely because we've been told that's who it is, and that it's a representation even though we can't see him.

I'm willing to believe there's blasphemy, and that there's a representation. I just want to know where they occur.

#39 ::: Shan ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 12:52 AM:

I thought this was an interesting and thought-provoking article on the episode: http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2010/04/22/south-park-mohammed-issue-sparks-debate-among-muslims/

#40 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 12:59 AM:

Stefan: Schroedinger's Prophet. Just so.

#41 ::: Bacchus ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 01:03 AM:

Unfortunately we need to tread lightly in characterizing this kind of zaniness as Islamist or even specifically fundamentalist, though nutjobbery it certainly be. Philosophically identical nutjobbery is to be found in U.S. laws against possession of certain comic books.

The logic flails and philosophical problems with condemning a cartoon of a bear suit that may or may not contain the Prophet (at some level of philosophical abstraction) are pretty much exactly identical to the ones required in order to criminalize sexual drawings of comic book characters that may or may not be minors (at some level of philosophical abstraction). And we do that in American jurisprudence. Citation.

How do we know if a cartoon bear-suited person is the Prophet, or if a sexual cartoon person is under the age of majority? I guess we trust the jury or the jihad to "know it when they see it."

#42 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 02:12 AM:

TNH @ 38: "I was dazzled by the idea that an otherwise unidentifiable man (or, for all we know, woman) in a bear suit is a blasphemous representation of Muhammad solely because we've been told that's who it is, and that it's a representation even though we can't see him."

I thought it was a pretty classic example of the rules-testing incarnation of trolling. "What, I'm not touching you! My finger is like an inch away from your face! Why are you getting so mad when I'm not touching you?" Letter, not spirit, etc.

#43 ::: Dos Ocho ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 02:35 AM:

Why is it okay to show Mohamed in a bear suit, but not okay to show a black-face performer?

That kind of stuck out at me as well. Making fun of someone's religious beliefs is all well and good, but oooh, racism...

But I guess the real difference is that PixelFish was trying to avoid giving offense, and Trey + Matt delight in it.

#44 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 03:24 AM:

Teresa @38: Surely the point is that any attempt to represent the prophet is blasphemous, regardless of costume. The bear suit is irrelevant here; Muslims don't draw pictures of the prophet as a pillar of light or shadow or whatever either. So if you say 'this is the prophet Mohammed in a bear suit', blasphemous. If you don't say who's in the bear suit and you have to deduce it's the prophet, perhaps not.

What's really interesting is the notion that I, as a non-Muslim, am committing an outrage by depicting the prophet in a non-offensive way.

I'm just surprised they didn't put him in a pig suit.

#45 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 03:50 AM:

#42 ::: heresiarch

I agree-- this has to be understood in terms of how people react to symbols and what signifies hostility, not in terms of theology.

To judge by reactions (Muslims typically find it offensive, non-Muslisms find it funny), it was a quite accurately gauged piece of teasing.

#46 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 04:25 AM:

I guess you had to be in Byzantium at the time of the great iconoclasms, or Flanders in the 1560s, or England in the 1650s... or, heck, maybe in Russia in the late 1940s, or, shoot dang it, maybe back in October '68 when Abbie Hoffman wore that Old Glory shirt, to think clearly about what's going on, conceptually, with the 'prophet' thing. Because otherwise it just won't make any sense for you except as a crazy thing some funny foreign folk do.

#47 ::: Irene Delse ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 05:03 AM:

At this point, I wonder who exactly is using the other to generate outrage and hence publicity: South Park or the otherwise obscure islamist group who now has had its 15 minutes of celebrity?

#48 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 05:28 AM:

When they went into the whole spiel about how the Prophet cannot be shown anymore and how he's going to have to wear something that covers him entirely I was so hoping they were going to show the prophet in a burqa. Seriously. Missed opportunity, there.

#49 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 06:18 AM:

#47 ... or the otherwise obscure islamist group who now has had its 15 minutes of celebrity?

Not everyone who said, "Boy, don't let the sun go down on you in this town," was motivated by anything other than a desire to keep a fellow human from coming to harm.

Why is it okay for the powerful to "tease" the powerless?

#50 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 06:44 AM:

Draw me a sheep!

#51 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 07:28 AM:

Who's powerful in this case? The people threatening to kill speakers for offensive speech, or the people who have access to a megaphone with which to broadcast their offensive speech? ISTM that power in this (and most) cases is multidimensional and hard to compare between people or groups.

#52 ::: Wolf Baginski (a bear) ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 07:34 AM:

Names are just labels.

There's a very thin line between teasing a Prophet and teasing a God. And maybe you can get away with more when it's in the family, so to speak.

Or maybe not.

Personally, as an anarchist, I find it easy to dismiss these vendors of ceramic fragmentation. If I were to be incensed by the sight of a female face, and lured into an initiation of violence by the thought of what I'm missing, I'd figure it was my fault, not anyone else's, and I'd reckon myself pretty worthless.

Some folks are going to have a nasty surprise in their next life.

#53 ::: Doug Hudson ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 08:01 AM:

According to Wikipedia (for what that's worth), there are over a billion Muslims. There is one Muslim state that openly possesses nuclear weapons, and another that is (probably) working to acquire nuclear weapons as fast as it possibly can.

A small but not insignificant portion of these billion Muslims, including groups trying to gain access to nuclear weapons, advocate killing people who say bad things about the founder of their religion.

This scares the hell out of me. Imagine the Inquisition with weapons of mass destruction.

#54 ::: DaveKuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 08:22 AM:

Prophet in a bear suit? Pedobear? (I don't watch South Park so this is all new to me, but I do believe Mohammed also had a 9-year old wife so there is a very pointed link there that might be what's being hinted at.)

#55 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 08:38 AM:

Seth Gordon @ #18, the graveyards are full of people who didn't appreciate the gravity of "this person wants me dead." Three of them were friends of mine who were still alive a year ago.

Yes, it's ludicrous, and yes, these Islamists are probably blowing smoke. But murder happens, and it happens for reasons even this trivial.

#56 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 09:18 AM:

Of course, Jesus and Mo have a comment on this.

#57 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 09:43 AM:

@30--

jim, you raise a good question, partly because the answer really does not seem obvious to me.

(i.e., it does not strike me as a rhetorical question, inviting the pat reply "if it is not okay to show black-face performers, then obviously it is also not okay to show prophet in a bear suit").

for one thing, i think your set-up to the question presumes a point still at issue, namely whether by drawing a cartoon of a bear, and saying some words, we have actually shown the prophet in a bear suit. that may be true, but it's far from obvious to me.
(for instance, no one has ever shown a proof for goldbach's conjecture. except me: i'm showing it here in this exclamation point! where's my fields medal?)

the question whether by showing some white guys dressed up in blackface we have shown some white guys dressed up in blackface seems, by comparison, easier to settle. (not entirely unproblematic; i can imagine a group of welsh coal-miners emerging from the shaft and looking as though they were wearing blackface. differential diagnosis: do they start singing "dixie" and shuffling? if so, then blackface.)

second of all, i think it is worth pointing out that people who object to blackface do not object to all depictions of white people as white people, or black people as black people. they don't object to seeing an undoctored photograph of barack obama or of joe biden. instead, they object to a very particular, intrinsically derogatory depiction which employs white people in order to ridicule black people.

but the islamists' original objection was not to showing the prophet in a bear suit, but to showing the prophet, at all. any depiction. flattering, low-key, caricatured, idealized, anything.

the bear suit came after that, as south park's way of raising the question of what depiction consists in.

this is important, i think, because it may show that what we are inclined to find offensive is not what the islamists are inclined to find offensive.

we think the offensive thing is portraying a religious leader *in a particular way*, i.e. in a bear suit, with intent to ridicule. but that's not what the islamists originally complained about. they forbid any depiction, whatsoever.

so, at the very least, i do not think that our sympathy with those who object to ridicule, should cause us to feel sympathy with the demands of those who forbid any depiction whatsoever.

i mean, if it were the *bear suit* that was the problem, then south park could avoid all offense by just showing the prophet in a neutral, non-ridiculing way, right? but no; that's apparently not enough. depictions of the prophet as an ordinary human being are already considered offensive. not so with depictions of black people.

next thought: history matters. there is a history to the institution of blackface. there is no history to the institution of showing the prophet in a bear suit. there may be a history of visual depictions of the prophet that are unflattering or employed in religious polemic. but even that does not seem to be the source of the prohibition. (there's a lot more to be said there, e.g. the history of western art, the history of religious polemic, etc., but i think that's a fair nutshell: the prohibition on depicting the prophet is not the result of, or a response to, a history of derogatory depictions).

i guess in general, when someone asks "why is it not okay to do x that offends y, but it is okay to do z, that offends w?", i think there is a real question. it may well be that there is parity throughout all variables, and so the two actions are equally wrong or equally right. but it is also possible that the x-actions and the z-actions really are different, or that y's reasons for taking offense really are better-grounded and more reasonable than w's.

#58 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 09:54 AM:

Thowmearope @ 24: "His point of view was that non-Moslems should not discuss Islam. Ever. Period. End. Even praise of Islam from a non-follower is somehow unwelcome."

I got that from a fundamentalist Christian when I tried to discuss some Bible passages with him. As a non-believer, I apparently have no right to even read the Bible. And there's something wrong with me if I want to read it before I believe it -- which kind of makes me wonder how he can call himself a Protestant! (Okay, I WAS a bit snarky and was quoting the bit about not praying on street corners to him...)

#59 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 10:11 AM:

Given that we have (so far as I know, unless somebody out there is in possession of both a digital camera and a time machine) no actual contemporary photographs of the prophet, then any depiction of him at all is going to be the equivalent of pointing at an image and saying, "That is a picture of the prophet Mohammed," regardless of whether the man in the image is wearing a bear suit or a burnoose.

Three further observations:

Threats -- even plausibly-deniable ones -- against those who make jokes that the threatmaker considers blasphemous are a Bad Thing, and entirely deserving of disapprobation.

By the standards of our culture and the rules of our constitution, the makers of South Park have the right to make whatever jokes they want to on the subject of their own or anyone else's religion.

Nevertheless, it's quite clear (to me, at least) that the makers of South Park make the jokes that they do about various religions with the intent of, at the very least, poking the ant-hill to watch the ants swarm out, and that they cross over the line from funny to tacky a bit more often than I (at least) would like.

(I will concede up front that my taste for poking-the-anthill humor is not as developed as it could be; likewise, my taste for humor which seems to depend for its effect upon a shared understanding between humorist and audience that the people who are the object of that humor are not as intelligent or as sophisticated as the humorist and his/her audience are.)

#60 ::: Laramie Sasseville ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 10:29 AM:

There is no bear suit. There is no one within the non-existent bear suit.

There are colored shapes moving across screens and people telling stories that too many others take too seriously.

#61 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 10:38 AM:

It could have been worse. It could have been a scantily-clad girl-bear, and cause earthquakes.

#62 ::: Dave Fried ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 10:40 AM:

I'm 100% with South Park on this one. There are some things about it that I hate (e.g. their denigrating treatment of powerful women), but one of the awesome things the show does is ridicule people who take themselves too seriously. Throughout history, the main function of comedy has been to take powerful idiots down a peg. If the writers are willing to put their own lives on the line to do that, more power to them.

Islam, as "traditionally" interpreted, has some serious tolerance issues when it comes to freedom (especially sexual freedom) and free expression. It's right for people in a free society to test those boundaries, call out the intolerance, and show the absurdity of a philosophy that says I get to kill you if you talk about my religion the wrong way.

Then again, I'm not religious, so maybe I just don't get it.

#63 ::: Laramie Sasseville ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 10:41 AM:

@57 Kid bitzer,
"the islamists' original objection was not to showing the prophet in a bear suit, but to showing the prophet, at all. any depiction. "

Do Muslims object only to their believers creating such depictions, or to believers and non-believers alike? Enforcing non-believers' conformity to one's belief-based rules seems like a tough row to hoe.

#64 ::: KévinT ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 10:43 AM:

I've been mulling over Jim's question @49 and several thoughts come to mind:

First, all the questions and nuances about what is "depicting the prophet" are interesting but eventually they are irrelevant: no matter the exact depiction, some Muslims will be offended.
However, I think - without being able to prove it - that a vast majority of Muslims worldwide, being intelligent and nuanced people, will not be offended. After all, depictions of the Prophet are forbidden to practitioners of the Muslim faith, not to other people.
Only a tiny minority, of the fundamentalist kind, will take offence. If I remember correctly, the outrage during the Dutch caricatures affair was somewhat orchestrated and manufactured by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Now, to address Jim's question, my thoughts parallel kid bitzer's: history is crucial. The U.S does not have a history of oppressing and demeaning its Muslim citizens, so poking fun at Islam does not have the same baggage as blackface.
Of course, if you consider Western nations, not just the U.S, and their relations with Muslims through history, things are not so clear cut.

Finally, I disagree that depicting Mohammed or criticizing Islam is "teasing the powerless", it can be done without being demeaning to Muslims.
Certainly a minority will cry blasphemy, just as, if I deny God's existence, a minority of Christians will cry blasphemy.

#65 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 10:46 AM:

@--

i believe the more pious formulation goes:

"there is no bear suit but bear suit" .

and incidentally, i have never watched south park (or the simpsons for that matter). it is perfectly compatible with everything i know that they are irresponsible toddlers who should be made to sit in a corner.

but, probably not killed. or even censored via death threats.

i'm not taking sp's side in this. but i'm definitely not taking the side of those murdered theo.

#66 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 10:53 AM:

Do Muslims object only to their believers creating such depictions, or to believers and non-believers alike? Enforcing non-believers' conformity to one's belief-based rules seems like a tough row to hoe.

Actually it's proved surprisingly easy. A couple of online death threats and the non-believers tend to conform very nicely thank you. See the incident under discussion for one example.

#67 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 10:56 AM:

pericat@31: What I want to know is which, if either of them, shits in the woods?

Doyle@59: Yes but; or some such. Quite clearly, the prophet was NOT a bear; nor was he a cartoon figure, regardless of what anyone says. Absurd claims are at least sometimes recognized as such, and treated appropriately, at law.

General: As several people have said, one difference is that nobody threatened death against Roscoe, or against anybody who used the phrase "silly woman".

I think we have a general agreement in the west that people have to put up with a certain amount of offense, in many areas; that freedom of expression trumps freedom from offense. Many things that lots of us agree are offensive are not only legal, but most of us believe they should remain legal. I don't get to kill people who say the scientific method is bunk. They don't get to kill me for saying religion is bunk. Killing people over this sort of thing is illegal, and quite rightly so, in the West. This is an area where I think our culture is clearly best. Of course, there are people here who deplore this aspect of our culture, and wish to change it. Bah, humbug.

#68 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 11:11 AM:

There are Moslems who believe that any depiction of a woman in anything less than complete coverage is offensive. There are even Moslems who believe that any depiction of a woman's face is offensive! Are we going to accommodate them, avoid offending them? Of course not; that would lead to a rapid race to the bottom...and let me tell you I'D at least claim to be offended by, oh, young guys in baggy pants or something. "My religion requires that young men wear pants tight enough to show the shape of their glutes! It's blasphemy to cover them in baggy cloth!"

Seriously, where do you draw the line? I think Moslem's taking offense to any depiction of Mohammad is an interesting case; since he's their prophet and their religion, I think we should probably respect that. At the same time, their expectation that non-Moslem Westerners will even comprehend such a restriction is unreasonable.

If we go into their countries, we should be expected to understand their culture well enough not to give massive offense; if we're in Denmark or the US, they can be offended, but they have more of a burden to explain. There's always some group of assholes pronouncing a fatwa (without being a duly constituted Islamic court, which means they don't have that authority) or proclaiming jihad about it, but they're isolated wackos.

OTOH, with global communication the way it is, and American cultural imperialism an unfortunate fact, don't we have an additional responsibility to try not to offend? (That certainly wouldn't apply to Denmark, though their growing Moslem population may give them some obligation to care on this matter as well.) This "obligation" I speak of is a matter of courtesy, and must not (by our Constitution) be required by law.

On the gripping hand, don't we have a right to live according to OUR culture, which celebrates depictions of historical and divine figures?

I find I don't have ready answers to these questions.

#69 ::: hapax ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 11:25 AM:

As You Know Bob, the prohibition against depicting an image of Mohammed (or indeed, any living being) was originally exactly the same as the motivation behind identifying the grave of Moses for Judaism -- to prevent idolatry, giving the reverence to the prophets (or any creature) that properly belongs to God. (I forget whether the Jewish taboo against representational art during the Middle Ages derives from the Muslim, or the other way around)

In a culture with even a dim familiarity with the havoc wrought by the Iconoclastic controversy, it's hardly an irrational position.

The irony, of course, is that this measure taken to prevent idol-worship has in many cases seemed to become a form of it -- for ANYONE to dare "disrespect" the Prophet by violating it is viewed by some as "blasphemy."

It's not an uncommon pattern in religions, or any deeply-felt cultural belief, but it does deserve closer examination.

Not that I think that South Park was trying to make a thoughtful statement about becoming the monster we fight against, or any such.

#70 ::: Chris D ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 11:25 AM:

The Daily Show has a good take on this.

#71 ::: KévinT ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 11:38 AM:

ddb@67:

Most Muslims don't believe blasphemers should be killed. They are just as tolerant as the average Christian. (You could call that damning with faint praise.)

I thinks it's a grave mistake to subscribe to this West/Muslim culture clash idea and to ascribe the actions of the raving maniacs to a (non-existent) global Muslim culture.

The usual retort is "so why don't these reasonable Muslims speak up against the maniacs?".
Well, they do, it just doesn't make the headlines.

#72 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 11:42 AM:

Jim @32 What similarities do you see between the two incidents that makes you think they can be profitably compared?

#73 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 12:00 PM:

Jim @30 and 32: Why is it okay to show Mohamed in a bear suit, but not okay to show a black-face performer?
...
Why is it okay to show Mohamed in a bear suit, but not okay for Patrick Roscoe to call Colleen Lindsay "silly woman"?

-->One is making fun of people's inherently changeable beliefs, questioning and satirizing an intellectual position.

The other two are making fun of people's inherent, unchangeable qualities.

Beliefs, no matter how intensely held, are purely subjective and, in a free-speech society, open to challenge.

If thoughts are robust, they will withstand the challenge. Galileo suffered excommunication and house arrest, but dammit, he was right. It's just too bad he didn't live 500 years to hear the apology.

A person's race, gender, sexual preference, handicap, etc. are inherent and unchangeable. There is no debate or challenge to be had. Explaining all the ways in which it is better to be a man (if that was one's position) wouldn't magically give me a Y chromosome.

#74 ::: Dos Ocho ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 12:01 PM:

Chris D@70: the Daily Show link you posted is giving me a 404... perhaps they've taken it down since you posted.

#75 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 12:05 PM:

Laramie @60: There is no bear suit. There is no one within the non-existent bear suit. There are colored shapes moving across screens and people telling stories that too many others take too seriously.

Well, on this line, there are no black people in Birth of a Nation. Not that South Park is at all comparable, but reductivism rarely illuminates anything useful.

I share Xopher's (#68) confusion. We do have a right to "live according to OUR culture" - but our cultures are vague, fluid things. I often proclaim tolerance to be a cornerstone of British values, a sentiment denied by many who have as much claim to Britishness as do I. What is "according to our culture" is not easily settled.

In this case, one participants in the conflict has been kind enough to make death threats, so an arbitration is easy. What level of mockery and insult of one's religion one should be expected to take, I am not sure.

#76 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 12:28 PM:

#51 Albatross Who's powerful in this case?

The folks who rain tons of explosives on the heads of others, or the ones who get tons of explosives rained on their heads?

#77 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 12:33 PM:

@73: Well, handicap is changeable. Especially in the "more" direction -- hand me that drill! And sometimes medicine / technology actually can reduce disability.

KévinT@71: I said nothing about any global Muslim culture, and don't particularly believe in one. I was using "the west" as a general identifier for the broad group of closely-related cultures that I'm from. In opposition to the loons who issue "fatwahs" for labeling a drawing "Mohammed", not to muslims in general. Equally in opposition to those who target abortion providers for assassination, which is generally American christians, but not to christians in general.

#78 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 12:37 PM:

MacDonald@76: And possibly the people who see the producers as South Park as part of those who rain explosives are sort of missing the point; SP is not that much an establishment show. The independent media is something of a shock to some people.

#79 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 12:44 PM:

Irene Delse @ 47: "At this point, I wonder who exactly is using the other to generate outrage and hence publicity:"

Oh, it's a very codependent relationship.

kid bitzer @ 57: "next thought: history matters."

Yes, which is why the history of Westerners denigrating Islam and using that as a rationale for interfering in and invading the Middle East matters. And honestly, history? Try right now. It's not like it's hard to find up-to-date examples of either Americans insulting Islam or examples of Americans invading Muslim countries, nor is it difficult to trace the connections between the two. Certainly no more difficult than tracing the connections between blackface and modern institutionalized racism.

#80 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 12:52 PM:

#57 i guess in general, when someone asks "why is it not okay to do x that offends y, but it is okay to do z, that offends w?", i think there is a real question.

The question was prompted by PixelFish feeling compelled to apologize for recommending a video that included a blackface performer.

#81 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 12:52 PM:

heresiarch@79: Very very true that there are plenty of westerners (a characterization that didn't communicate very well last time I used it, but having explained, and following your usage, I will use it again here) denigrating islam quite currently.

Of course, there was a sharp uptick in that starting in the fall of 2001, which did have some causal basis.

As I have pointed out somewhat too often to my christian friends, letting the wing-nuts drive the dialog WILL result in their religion being solidly identified with the wing-nuts. Of course there is some difficulty getting media attention to sane and rational statements.

Equally true that religion has been at the bottom of a lot of wars historically, and used as the justification for others even if (perhaps) it wasn't the root cause, and that some of those involved the West invading the Islamic world. (They also involved a lot of west-on-west events.)

#82 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 01:05 PM:

Laramie Sasseville @63:

Enforcing non-believers' conformity to one's belief-based rules seems like a tough row to hoe.

Hence the persecution complex many fundamentalists have with regards to non-believers continued existence, which is an affront to their religion's conformity strictures and a constant existential burden. If we would just curl up our toes and die, the oppressive conditions of having to share existence with other people would be alleviated. And paradise would reign.

Until that glorious day, there's a constant reminder that other people can get by not believing the things they do. Which must be vexing for them.

#83 ::: Chris D ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 01:31 PM:

Dos Ocho @74

Sorry about that. My first attempt to link to anything in a post. I knew it seemed to have gone too smoothly. I'll try to figure out what I should have done. In the mean time it's still the first video on the Daily show front page.

#84 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 01:52 PM:

@77: Well, handicap is changeable. Especially in the "more" direction -- hand me that drill! And sometimes medicine / technology actually can reduce disability.

-->Yes, and people can have gender-reassignment surgery. And Michael Jackson demonstrated that black people can turn white, while George Hamilton demonstrated that white people can turn into Oompa Loompas.

The point is, a religious position, like a political position, is a choice. It can seem like not a choice due to the powerful forces of culture and training, but people can and do change religious or political beliefs with great frequency.

Challenging an intellectual position isn't immoral.

Mocking a person, or even a group, for holding a particular belief isn't kind, but it's appropriate when done as satire.

The target of the mocking in this episode of South Park was the belief, and the people who commit murder in the name of that belief.

I confess I watched Part 2 while on the telephone and perhaps didn't pay overmuch attention, but I don't recall them mocking all Muslims. They mocked Muslims who want to kill people for disagreeing with them.

#85 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 01:54 PM:

On the question of "representation" -- would a blank canvas, with the label "The Prophet Mohammed", be considered blasphemous by the people who have condemned the South Park episode?

How about a blank canvas labeled "The Prophet Mohammed cavorting with seventeen naked virgins who are part of his due in the afterlife"?

To paraphrase one of Rotlser's Rules, is no depiction no depiction? Would it be sin for a visually oriented (rather than verbally oriented) person even to read the words "The Prophet Mohammed" because that creates a picture in the reader's mind?

I can see an argument for taking any one of these stands every bit as strongly, if not more strongly, than what South Park did. I just wonder where the line can be appropriately drawn (as it were).

#86 ::: Dos Ocho ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 02:05 PM:

Chris D @ #74: Link's working fine for me now... maybe it was getting too much traffic, or I did something wrong the first time.

Jim @ #76: The folks who rain tons of explosives on the heads of others, or the ones who get tons of explosives rained on their heads?

I hope you're not implying that the cartoonists fall into the first category.

#87 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 02:10 PM:

#72 Pericat Jim @32 What similarities do you see between the two incidents that makes you think they can be profitably compared?

We'd just gone through a thrash, and that thrash was repeated/echoed elsewhere on the 'net, explaining how wrong Roscoe was to insult a specific person who he felt had harmed him. Now we're going through a huge thrash, which is being echoed/repeated elsewhere on the 'net, explaining how right it is for these two gentlemen to insult a group of random strangers that had never offered them any harm at all.

And just as the few radicals are seen as the face of Islam, these two fellows are seen as the face of America. And the question might reasonably be asked, where are the moderate voices objecting to their actions?

#88 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 02:13 PM:

#86 I hope you're not implying that the cartoonists fall into the first category.

I most certainly am. They are Americans, backed by corporate money, with a long-running television show, movie deals, and action figures. What else could they be?

#89 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 02:20 PM:

#73 Galileo suffered excommunication and house arrest, but dammit, he was right.


Galileo was right, but by accident, like Swift and the two moons of Mars.

#90 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 02:25 PM:

Jim #87:

There's nothing inconsistent with noting that the southpark guys are free to say what they want, and also that going out of their way to insult someone's religion is an asinine thing to do. Nor with adding in that people who advocate in a general way for violence to be used against people who offensively mock their religion are also assholes engaging in constitutionally protected speech, but that actual violence or specific, credible threats of it ought to land anyone involved in prison.

#91 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 02:33 PM:

I recently read (and I'm not going to try to track it down, sorry) that Shia Muslims do not prohibit representations of the Prophet -- though I don't know how they feel about a representation of the Prophet in a bear suit. Sunni Moslems do object to pictures of the Prophet. But there have been many images of the Prophet over the centuries: see here.

#92 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 02:36 PM:

Jim @ 89: Galileo was right, but by accident, like Swift and the two moons of Mars.

-->I must disagree. He was right, because based on the evidence he had, a heliocentric system made more sense than a geocentric one. He didn't make it up out of nothing. It was no "accident" that continuing observations confirmed his hypothesis.

That's how science works. That's why scientific conclusions often change over time: better evidence can point a different way, or refine earlier conclusions, or confirm earlier hypotheses.

#93 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 02:48 PM:

albatross@90: and also that going out of their way to insult someone's religion is an asinine thing to do

-->What is asinine about it? Isn't mocking large, powerful institutions the role of satire?

The entire show insults lots and lots of people about many things. They frequently mock religion. They've mocked general Christianity, the Catholic Church, LDS church, Jewish faith, and Scientology (all to varying degrees). Should Islam get a pass? Or should all religions be off limits? Why?

#94 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 02:50 PM:

Jim #88:

I think intergroup power comparisons like this are mostly uninformative. The southpark guys, whatever their other flaws, surely have no more responsibility than any other American for our pointless exercises in suffering and bloodshed in Muslim countries. Similarly, the people most likely to be offended without actively searching for the clip so they can be offended are American Muslims, who aren't being treated as well as they should w.r.t. the war on terror, but who are also not having a lot of bombs dropped on them by anyone.

The southpark people, by virtue of writing a popular cartoon, have some measure of power in the megaphone sense--they can be heard. But that power has very little to do with the power to blow people up.

#95 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 02:54 PM:

-->I must disagree. He was right, because based on the evidence he had, a heliocentric system made more sense than a geocentric one. He didn't make it up out of nothing. It was no "accident" that continuing observations confirmed his hypothesis.

He was wrong. His specific proof that that earth revolves was the motion of the tides, which he likened to the sloshing of water in a pail when the pail moves.

He laughed to scorn the theory by Kepler that the tides were caused by an attraction by the moon and the sun.

Copernicus, Brahe, and Kepler had worked out the math and published their heliocentric system decades before Galileo thought it would be funny to publish a satire mocking the Pope.

And, as I said, Galileo was wrong.

#96 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 02:55 PM:

--E @ 84: "The point is, a religious position, like a political position, is a choice. It can seem like not a choice due to the powerful forces of culture and training, but people can and do change religious or political beliefs with great frequency."

That's an observation entirely discounting people's experience of their own faith. However easy it is in the abstract to do so, no one who truly believes that Jesus is their Lord and Savior is going to think that converting to Hinduism is any more possible or desirable than your average heteronormative individual will think a sex change operation is possible or desirable.

#97 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 02:56 PM:

#75 SeanH

Not all the black people in Birth of a Nation were white people blacked up: the scenes of the slaves in the cotton fields, served an ample three hour lunch at noon, singing, dancing, laughing, have the best times of their lives, were actual black people. All the actors who interacted with the white actors who were in blackface though, particularly those who shared a take with white women.

Love, C.

#98 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 02:59 PM:

Brahe, it should be said, opposed heliocentrism until his death. He preferred geoheliocentrism

#99 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 03:03 PM:

E #93:

First, I think spending time mocking other people (particularly large groups of people) is in general an asinine thing to do. Second, I think religion is actually much more fundamental in many peoples' identity then you seem to believe--much more like nationality, race, gender, or sexual orientation. Not exactly like those--you can change religions just as you can change citizenship. But more like that than, say, what clothes you wear or what color your house is.

I think when you sit around thinking "what can I say or do that will *really* piss off group X, get the more hotheaded members of that group steaming mad, maybe get some of them to send us threatening letters?" you're almost certainly in the process of being an asshole.

This seems to me to be very different from discussing ideas in ways that give offense because of the ideas, or because of ignorance or even carelessness. It's going out of your way to offend people, having that as an apparent goal, that strikes me as pretty unambiguously asinine.

#100 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 03:08 PM:

heresiarch @ 96 And yet there is ample evidence that people in the millions convert from one faith to another every year and that people have been converting from one faith to another in significant numbers for as long as there have been faiths. If the idea that faith is mutable weren't demonstrably true, christianity wouldn't exist. Nor would any other religion that developed after the very first religions came into existence.

#101 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 03:12 PM:

Jim @87

All right. Then I would have to say it's generally okay to ridicule ideas or beliefs, and not at all okay to directly insult actual people in ways designed to deny their 'peopleness'. I think that's some of what --E was saying.

(I also think the Buddha is in the bear suit.)

'Mohammed in a bear suit' as graphic construction is quite an interesting idea. Can one really be said to have created a picture of Mohammed by drawing a bear and labelling it "Mohammed"? How about drawing a circle and so labelling it? Would it matter if the circle was hand-drawn or if the artist used a compass?

If I make a sign reading "Mohammed" with a down-pointing arrow and fasten the sign to my head, what have I done (besides give myself a headache)? Is the label enough, in other words?

#102 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 03:14 PM:

Tom Whitmore@#85: On the question of "representation" -- would a blank canvas, with the label "The Prophet Mohammed", be considered blasphemous by the people who have condemned the South Park episode?

How about a blank canvas labeled "The Prophet Mohammed cavorting with seventeen naked virgins who are part of his due in the afterlife"?

Here we get into the relationship between the symbol and the thing symbolized, and the idea that the symbol is not the thing. Given that a blank canvas, a picture of a person in a bear suit, and a picture of a person in a three-piece business suit with color-coordinated tie and pocket square are all -- being pictures -- symbols for a thing and are none of them the thing itself (if any one of them is a thing-itself, the thing-itself that it is, is "a picture"), then all that makes any one of them functionally equivalent to "the prophet Mohammed" or "John Doe" or some other named person is the fact that somebody has pointed to the picture in question and identified it as such.

(I'm sorry; I have enough background in linguistics that questions like this one fascinate me.)

But anyhow -- yeah, I'd have to say that somebody pointing to the blank canvas and identifying it as "The Prophet Mohammed cavorting with seventeen naked virgins who are part of his due in the afterlife" would be, if not blasphemous (the question of whether or not one can blaspheme against a religion one does not subscribe to being open to debate), then at the very least deliberately rude.

Granted, deliberate rudeness is sometimes called for. But people who are being deliberately rude should at least be upfront about the fact, instead of wrapping themselves in clouds of "why, I can't see how anybody could possibly have taken offense at that!"

#103 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 03:18 PM:

A death threat wasn't issued. A warning was issued. This may be considered splitting of hairs.

In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Younus Abdullah Muhammad, a member of Revolution Muslim, repeated the group’s assertion that the post was a prediction rather than a threat. He said the post on the group’s blog “was intended in a principle that’s deeply rooted in the Islamic religion, which is called commanding the good and forbidding the evil.” He tied the group’s complaints about “South Park” to larger frustrations about American support for Israel and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Death threats were definitely issued by some Christians to various artists such as Richard Serra and Chris Ofili, who have depicted Christ, the crucifix or the Virgin in ways other Christiqans perceived as sacrilegious.

Societies evolve systems of courtesies and manners as part of survival techique, in order to smooth out disagreements in discourse and to put limits on offensive public behaviors and discourse.

More lately our so-called culture takes glee in doing just the opposite, and indeed hugely rewards financially those who speak and behave and depict as offensively as possible. South Park is as much a part of this anti-social complex as Rlimbaugh and tbaggers.

There likely won't be an end to this until there is a conflagration of bloody warfare, civil or otherwise, to teach us, too late, this is distinctly a strategy of anti-survival. There are too many extremists of every flavor who prefer to blow it all up rather than not have things be their way.

In the meantime the South Parkers snicker, safely, as they believe, above the fray they enjoy escalating, and laugh all the way to the bank.

Love, C.

#104 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 03:23 PM:

South Park is asinine, I'd hope we can all agree on that - principally because its makers have never hidden their intentions to be as crude and vulgar as possible and still get onto TV. They also, as a matter of record, have political/philosophical beliefs that particularly orient them towards scorning all organised religion [and other things, including 'do-gooder' liberalism]. This may make them heroes in some people's eyes; in others' it may make them annoying little shits. But in a free society it certainly does not justify threatening them.

The notion that their freedom to be asinine shits is in some form a racist move against brown people is, on the other hand, an absurd piece of pearl-clutching over-sensitivity.

And remember, if you meet the Buddha in the bear suit, kill him.

#105 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 03:24 PM:

Hmmm. My latest went to moderation. I think there was only a single url in it though.

I did speak of art though, and referenced the respectful names for the Mother of G-D and his Son. But only respectfully. Maybe these are trigger words?

Love, C.

#106 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 03:53 PM:

Jim, I stand corrected on the facts. Please swap in "Copernicus," or perhaps shift the example to the somewhat-less-persecuted Darwin. Alas, I still disagree with you on the concept. That the Earth circles the sun is demonstrably true. That depicting Mohammad on TV or in newspapers will cause some sort of apocalypse is demonstrably false.

I respect people for being human. I am not obligated to respect every idea they have just because they hold it dear.


heresiarch @96: However easy it is in the abstract to do so, no one who truly believes that Jesus is their Lord and Savior is going to think that converting to Hinduism is any more possible or desirable than your average heteronormative individual will think a sex change operation is possible or desirable.

-->They may not think it, yet there are many examples of people who truly believed that Jesus was their lord and savior, and yet later in their life changed their mind. They did this without radical surgery.


alex @103: South Park is asinine, I'd hope we can all agree on that

-->Alas, no. While particular episodes are often asinine or stupid, the show is (IMO/YMMV) often brilliant. The stated goals of the creators are irrelevant, as the viewers bring their own thoughts to the discussion. It's no different than the "reader's 50%" of the experience of a book.

#107 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 04:07 PM:

If the South Park guys were wrong* to mock Islam, does that mean that the Pythons were wrong to mock Christianity and Judaism in Life of Brian? I'm having a hard time coming up with a plausible distinction between the cases. (Morally, that is: I can certainly see why one is more irresponsible than the other, given the context.)

#108 ::: AndrDrew ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 04:09 PM:

The questions about the label being the blasphemy, leave another question hanging: what about an "obvious depiction" of the Prophet... labeled "This is Not The Prophet (peace be upon him)"?
(in french, for extra points)

This is not a new discussion in art (though what is?), and the discussion always comes back to "should we really let that jerkface get away with this?"

#109 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 04:09 PM:

#104 Hmmm. My latest went to moderation. I think there was only a single url in it though.

Yes, Constance, but that URL was broken.

#110 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 04:15 PM:

Why is it okay to show Mohamed in a bear suit, but not okay to show a black-face performer?

Depends entirely on whose ox is getting gored. Why is a question often asked of emotionally charged issues, and is rarely answered satisfactorily. The emotion simply is, and the rational part of our brain trots out reasons....because we are emotionally compelled to do so.

#111 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 04:16 PM:

[ANIMATED CARTOON. A stage, with red velvet curtain. The curtain rises. A PERSON IN A BEAR SUIT stands on the stage. After a long beat, the bear waves to the audience, then stands motionless again.]

[Soon, a MAN IN BLUE walks onstage from the left. He looks like the cartoonist.]

MAN IN BLUE: I represent the cartoonist and I tell you that the person inside the bear suit is the Prophet.

[A MAN IN YELLOW walks onstage from the right. He, too, looks like the cartoonist.]

MAN IN YELLOW: I represent the cartoonist and I tell you that the person inside the bear suit is my cousin Fred.

MAN IN BLUE: You are lying.

MAN IN YELLOW: No, you are lying.

MAN IN BLUE: Let's ask the person in the bear suit, then. Person in the bear suit, which of us is telling the truth?

PERSON IN BEAR SUIT: [Without removing bear head] Mff mmf mmfmmff.

[The MEN IN BLUE AND YELLOW face the audience, both looking vindicated. A long beat. Curtain falls]

***

Is this still blasphemy? Is it rude to pose this question? Is the cartoonist a troll?

#112 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 04:16 PM:

Jim at #95, at least if Wikipedia is to be believed, the tides are not the evidence that Galileo used to determine that the earth revolves around the sun. It's evidence that he later came up with to help demonstrate it, but even prior to that (false) evidence, he still believed the right thing on the basis of good evidence (the phases of Venus).

#113 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 04:25 PM:

Tom Whitmore@#85: I recall that teacher who got in trouble for naming the class teddy bear "Mohammed" (following vote by her students). (This may also have been in the SP writer's minds.)

#114 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 04:28 PM:

Debra Doyle @102 -- nothing to be sorry about! Such questions fascinate me, as well, and I'll often go on about the dangers of mistaking the symbol for the thing symbolized (I refuse, for example, to pledge allegiance to the flag, where I'm willing to pledge allegiance to the republic for which it stands). Odd, in some ways, that you'd think the seventeen virgins is more rude than the simple name: the former conjures up a ruder image, perhaps, but the latter may easily be taken to imply that the Prophet is a blank canvas onto whom we all may write our own visions. That's certainly subversive, if not rude.

Your last paragraph seems to paraphrase an old joke -- "That's vaguely rude, and if there's anything I can't stand, it's vagueness."

#115 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 04:29 PM:

Andrew Willett#111: PERSON IN BEAR SUIT: [Without removing bear head] Mff mmf mmfmmff.

-->Clearly, the person in the bear suit is Kenny. ;-)

#116 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 04:34 PM:

re 24: I think this might be related to the theory I've gotten from some infallible-church types when I've questioned the the validity of some official line of reasoning: they in essence stated that reasoning about theology didn't work outside the Infallible Church. I find this untenable, because it pretty well sinks the persuasive power of argument; if working through an argument to test it for flaws doesn't work when I do it, then I don't have any reason to trust arguments made to me, because I can't verify them. But I can see how taking this sort of attitude to result in the views that were expressed to you.

re 59: I might go a bit farther than that. I've only seen one South Park episode (the WoW one), so I can't say how much they actually conform to the picture I'm about to paint. But it does seem to me that a program of ridiculing people as a form of entertainment comes a bit too close to blood sport for comfort. In the case of ridiculing religion, the real victims are all the powerless believers who see what is sacred to them being trashed, just to keep the commercials from bumping into each other.

#117 ::: Dos Ocho ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 04:35 PM:

Jim @ #88: I most certainly am. They are Americans, backed by corporate money, with a long-running television show, movie deals, and action figures. What else could they be?

Do you feel the same way about the Danish cartoonists?

#118 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 04:42 PM:

#106 Jim, I stand corrected on the facts. Please swap in "Copernicus," or perhaps shift the example to the somewhat-less-persecuted Darwin. Alas, I still disagree with you on the concept. That the Earth circles the sun is demonstrably true. That depicting Mohammad on TV or in newspapers will cause some sort of apocalypse is demonstrably false.

It's a good thing, then, that no one has claimed that depicting Mohammad on TV will cause some kind of apocalypse. Instead, someone has claimed that showing Mohammad on TV might cause some loony to blow the shower's head off. Which isn't quite as demonstrably untrue: People have been killed, and others have had serious threats made against them, for similar or lesser acts.

As to substituting Copernicus, he was himself a minor churchman (as were most scholars of the time), and in good graces with the ecclesiastical authorities. Kepler (who worked out the laws describing the orbits of the planets) taught in a seminary. The Church carried out experiments verifying Copernicus up through the 1650s.

What did it for Copernicus was the Protestants. When they rejected the Pope and over a thousand years of tradition, all they had left was the Bible, and the Bible didn't support heliocentrism. Which left the Church to defend itself against the Protestant attacks by saying "Yes! We believe in the Bible too!" and ditching Copernicus. By that time the heliocentric system had been accepted by the Church for more than a hundred years.

The rotation of the earth wasn't demonstrated experimentally until 1851 (by Leon Foucault).

#119 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 04:55 PM:

#117 Do you feel the same way about the Danish cartoonists?

No, but we aren't talking about them, are we?

Should we note, though, that credible threats have been made against them?

And shall we note that Denmark is part of Western Europe, which has been busily helping rain those explosives, and that Denmark itself has sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan?

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, Denmark has been highly proactive in endorsing and implementing United States, UN, and EU-initiated counter-terrorism measures, just as Denmark has contributed substantially to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. It currently has about 750 soldiers in Afghanistan, operating without caveat and concentrated in Helmand province. In 2003, Denmark was among the first countries to join Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), supplying a submarine, a Corvette-class ship, and military personnel to support OIF’s coalition in Iraq. Denmark in the end provided 500 troops to assist with stabilization efforts in Iraq. Denmark withdrew most of its troops from Iraq in August 2007, when Iraqi forces took over security responsibilities in the Basra area where Danish troops had been concentrated. Denmark maintains a small residual troop contingent that supports the NATO Training Mission in Iraq.
#120 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 05:02 PM:

Jim @118: Instead, someone has claimed that showing Mohammad on TV might cause some loony to blow the shower's head off.

-->Yes, but surely someone has a right to take that risk? One might even suggest that someone (that ineffable hero, Someone) ought to take that risk, if only to make it clear that threats of force are not a successful strategy.

I'm not certain what you're arguing here, Jim. Why is is bad that South Park made fun of people who threaten (and sometimes accomplish) murder?

#121 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 05:05 PM:

MacDonald@119: The difference of relevance, I thought, was that the Danish cartoonist had a much smaller platform (initially one newspaper, wasn't it?) compared to the South Park people (major American TV show).

I rather expect that islamic loonies (by which I mean to separate them from the larger set "islamic people") are not much better at distinguishing a cartoonist in Denmark from a TV producer in California than Westerners in general are at distinguishing a sunni cleric in Malaysia from a shia cleric in Iran (no specific individuals intended there, unlike the cartoonist and producer above). Neither direction of this excuses anything, but we do need to recognize that we are dealing with people with their emotions pretty thoroughly aroused.

#122 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 05:05 PM:

Shan @39: You're right; that's a good article. Thank you for linking to it.

Heresiarch @42:

I thought it was a pretty classic example of the rules-testing incarnation of trolling. "What, I'm not touching you! My finger is like an inch away from your face! Why are you getting so mad when I'm not touching you?" Letter, not spirit, etc.
No. I don't find that game interesting. For me, this is a branch of expository theory. I was genuinely interested in the relationship between representation and identification, thing and how we think about thing. It's related to an odd property of the Spanish Prisoner con game I've mentioned before: not only is it not necessary for the prisoner to exist; it's not necessary for Spain to exist. It can be useful to reduce these things to their abstract components. The Spanish Prisoner has four:
1. A claim to have uncommon knowledge of a prize which can be redeemed from its current state or location for a price far below its value.

2. A circumstance which makes it impossible for the con artist to redeem it, but which doesn't affect the victim's ability to do so.

3. The victim is persuaded to redeem the prize in return for a share in its value.

4. The con artist takes the supposed price of redemption and vanishes.

Once you understand the abstract components, you can use them to generate new variants of the Spanish Prisoner: An Old Master painting, overpainted (removably) with some valueless daub, which the well-known art appraiser who spotted it can't buy without raising suspicions, say; or the stashed loot of Sani Abacha.

This is structurally similar, though not identical, to the joke Gene Wolfe has told by an apprentice member of the torturer's guild.

The problem of Muhammad in a bear suit is similar to one I first encountered when I was editing naughty books. The publisher suggested I fix a scene involving underage characters -- there was some stage business with their heights -- by making them adult midgets: roughly the same size and shape, but not a felony. I found that striking, and later applied it to a problematic scene involving a depraved contessa, a hydraulically operated sofa, and a horse in a suspension harness. The horse became two gardeners in a pantomime horse costume.

Samuel R. Delany rendered his book The Tides of Lust legally publishable by adding one hundred years to the age of every character in it.

Sorry; I'm running on way too long, and the next example over from this is the fairy gold problem, so I'd better quit now. But: not rules lawyering. Honest.

Theophylact @56: Good cartoon. I've been wondering whether anyone remembers that the earliest version of South Park was a one-off cartoon that featured a wrestling match between Jesus Christ and Santa Claus.

Kid bitzer @57: Thank you, especially for "the bear suit came after that, as south park's way of raising the question of what depiction consists in."

Janet Brennan Croft @58, I'll swap you for an amazing rant I once heard -- and this was long before the movies came out -- about too many people reading and enjoying Tolkien for the wrong reasons.

Laramie Sasseville @60:

There is no bear suit. There is no one within the non-existent bear suit.

There are colored shapes moving across screens and people telling stories that too many others take too seriously.

You may watch the movements of meaningless colored shapes, but that's not what most viewers are up to.

Dave Fried @62, people have a right to take things seriously, though IMO not to maim each other for failing to do so. In the meantime, I get to kill you if you talk about my religion the wrong way is hardly unique to Islam. There've been plenty of times and places in Christendom where that principle was enthusiastically applied.

Islam is not the repository of all the things we like to think we aren't.

KévinT @64:

The U.S does not have a history of oppressing and demeaning its Muslim citizens."
Unfortunately, it does. It's gotten a lot worse since 9/11.

Muslims who are black really screw up the schema.

DDB @67:

Quite clearly, the prophet was NOT a bear; nor was he a cartoon figure, regardless of what anyone says. Absurd claims are at least sometimes recognized as such, and treated appropriately, at law.
I'd have sworn you didn't take such a reductionist view of language.
General: As several people have said, one difference is that nobody threatened death against Roscoe, or against anybody who used the phrase "silly woman".
Nobody's done it yet, but I'm starting to feel tempted.
I think we have a general agreement in the west that people have to put up with a certain amount of offense, in many areas; that freedom of expression trumps freedom from offense. Many things that lots of us agree are offensive are not only legal, but most of us believe they should remain legal. I don't get to kill people who say the scientific method is bunk. They don't get to kill me for saying religion is bunk. Killing people over this sort of thing is illegal, and quite rightly so, in the West. This is an area where I think our culture is clearly best.
Our culture? Western Civilization? Of which, by the way, western Islam is a significant component? We've got a long history of suppressing, mistreating, or killing people for exactly this kind of thing. And as various commenters have pointed out, doing so is not an inherent or consistent component of the cultures of Brown People Who Are Not Us. I see no benefit in cultural or historical essentialism that renders us dumber than we strictly need to be. (See also, KévinT @71)
Of course, there are people here who deplore this aspect of our culture, and wish to change it. Bah, humbug.
Name three, or take it back.

Aaaargh.

David, do you imagine that everyone in this conversation is a white Anglo-Saxon Christian residing in the United States? If I can't appeal to your political opinions, can I at least appeal to your manners?

Hapax @69:

As You Know Bob, the prohibition against depicting an image of Mohammed (or indeed, any living being) was originally exactly the same as the motivation behind identifying the grave of Moses for Judaism -- to prevent idolatry, giving the reverence to the prophets (or any creature) that properly belongs to God. ... The irony, of course, is that this measure taken to prevent idol-worship has in many cases seemed to become a form of it -- for ANYONE to dare "disrespect" the Prophet by violating it is viewed by some as "blasphemy."
So you're saying that what we're talking about is a sacred absence? I don't have a problem with the concept. In fact, it's the only interpretation I've heard so far that covers all the known cases. I do deny its applicability to nonbelievers, but that's a separate issue.

--E @93

albatross@90: and also that going out of their way to insult someone's religion is an asinine thing to do
What is asinine about it? Isn't mocking large, powerful institutions the role of satire?
Not per se. There's supposed to be a point to it.

Kelly McCullough @100: Conversion exists. It's a nontrivial process. The person who does it obviously perceives their previous affiliation as mutable. That doesn't mean they feel that way about the new one.

Alex @103: Yes, South Park is crude, but the reason it's popular is because its audience finds it at least moderately funny, and sometimes very funny indeed. Just being crude won't do that.

Funny isn't fair or reasonable, but it is an undeniable force of nature, like a compelling storyline or an earworm pop hook. People who have a knack for it can get away with being much bigger jerks than Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Just look at P.J. O'Rourke.

The notion that their freedom to be asinine shits is in some form a racist move against brown people is, on the other hand, an absurd piece of pearl-clutching over-sensitivity.
I don't believe anyone here has made that argument as you describe it. Also, watch it with the "pearl-clutching over-sensitivity" business, or you'll restart the gendered language argument, and I'll be on the other side.

Constance @104, we don't filter for content. Never have, probably never will. Sometimes comments go to moderation anyway, but we have no idea why it happens.

C. Wingate @116:

re 24: I think this might be related to the theory I've gotten from some infallible-church types when I've questioned the the validity of some official line of reasoning: they in essence stated that reasoning about theology didn't work outside the Infallible Church.
Thank you for demonstrating that one religious adherent saying a dumb thing doesn't mean it's a universal belief of all members of that religion. To take another example, chosen entirely at random, I'm sure you'd agree that the class of "all Episcopalians anywhere" cannot be held responsible for, or assumed to subscribe to, the class of "any and all statements ever made by an Episcopalian."

#123 ::: Dos Ocho ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 05:09 PM:

Jim @ #119: Oh, I'm not unaware that Denmark was among the countries that invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. I was just curious where you drew the line when suggesting that these non-violent artists had blood on their hands by dint of their nationality.

Would I be able to find a country innocent enough that its citizens could draw what they pleased without being accused of being an accessory to bloodshed?

#124 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 05:11 PM:

TNH@122: Sorry, poor use of "here"; in my head, "here" was "the Western world", not "Making Light".

#125 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 05:13 PM:

Tom Whitmore@114: Your last paragraph seems to paraphrase an old joke -- "That's vaguely rude, and if there's anything I can't stand, it's vagueness."

Actually, I had in mind the principle inculcated in me by my father, during the years of my growing-up: "A gentleman is never unintentionally rude to anyone."

("Are you a civil engineer, Mr. Doyle?" people would occasionally ask him. To which he would reply, "Sometimes.")

#126 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 05:31 PM:

Just a note here:

In the unedited version it apparently becomes obvious later in the episode that it is not Muhammad in the bear suit but rather Santa Claus. He went into the bear suit instead, to protect Muhammad.

I don't know if this has any actual relevance to the argument or not, but it's interesting.

Watching the censored version of the episode, this wasn't as clear... Santa just showed up at the end, and I had no idea where he came from.

#127 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 05:35 PM:

#120 I'm not certain what you're arguing here, Jim. Why is is bad that South Park made fun of people who threaten (and sometimes accomplish) murder?

Why are we supporting a pair of assholes, while at the same time demanding that moderate Muslims denounce their co-religionist assholes?

#128 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 05:37 PM:

Teresa @ 122 I would never claim that some people don't feel that their religion is an immutable part of themselves. My contention is that the huge numbers of conversions that happen on an ongoing basis counts as a rather large pool of evidence that religion is mutable.

I will also note that the religions that have built the idea of proselytizing into their basic structure are implicitly endorsing the idea of the mutability of faith. They may well only be endorsing it as one-way mutability, but at root the idea that proselytizing can work is a religious statement about the mutability of religion. As are the many injunctions against straying from one's religion of origin or choice.

Internal experience of the nature of religion is important but I would argue that outside observation is at least as important for any discussion of religion. For me at least, religion looks a lot more like deeply held political belief in regards to its relative degree of mutability than it looks like race or gender or sexual orientation.

I can't easily imagine any event that would shift me from being the liberal I have been pretty much all of my life. It feels immutable, but I have no doubt that it would be much easier to transform me from being a liberal into a conservative than it would be to transform me from white into black, male into female, or straight into gay.

I respect people's attachment to and sincere belief in their religion but I don't see that attachment as being fundamentally of the same nature as race, gender, or sexual orientation.

There are people who subscribe to deeply held beliefs that one race is inferior in nature to another, and some of those people claim a religious basis for their beliefs. I'm not willing to give a pass to treating those ideas as pernicious on the grounds that it's unacceptable to challenge peoples religious beliefs and I thinks that's where treating religious belief as something akin to race or gender or sexual orientation falls apart as an argument.

#129 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 05:44 PM:

Jim @ 127, is that what we're doing? I thought that in the thread where we were responding to your earlier question we were discussing why what South Park is doing is not perfectly analogous in terms of offensiveness to black face, not that it isn't offensive at all. Because, you know I'm not a big fan of South Park, in fact I refuse to watch it because I find it offensive.

#130 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 05:50 PM:

Constance@97 wrote: Not all the black people in Birth of a Nation were white people blacked up

True, and interesting, but I think not the point: Sean was responding to the idea that what you see in a film is "shapes moving across screens" and not people.

#131 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 05:52 PM:

Jim:

Why are we supporting a pair of assholes, while at the same time demanding that moderate Muslims denounce their co-religionist assholes?
I'm not. I quite liked the Daily Show having a moderate Muslim on who said yes, the South Park episode made him uncomfortable. I also liked Hapax's explanation (assuming I understood it correctly) that what we're dealing with is a sacred absence.

Speaking as someone who thought I was writing an entry on a very different subject, I'm amused to learn that the ending of the episode addresses several of the questions I raised.

#132 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 05:54 PM:

Jim @ 127: Why are we supporting a pair of assholes, while at the same time demanding that moderate Muslims denounce their co-religionist assholes?

-->You will note that I have not demanded that moderate Muslims denounce their co-religionist assholes.

I'm still failing to understand how enjoying the fact that a pair of assholes gave a big "up yours" to a much larger bunch of assholes* is a problem.

Are you suggesting that two assholes with a juvenile TV show are somehow a threat to the world's second largest religion, with 1.5 billion members? (source)


*note: that would be the subset of "Moslems willing to kill those they feel are blasphemers," not "all Moslems."

#133 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 05:57 PM:

I don't like South Park either. I find it gratingly annoying.

#134 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 06:00 PM:

I was just curious where you drew the line when suggesting that these non-violent artists had blood on their hands by dint of their nationality.

No, nor did I ever say,or imply, that "these non-violent artists had blood on their hands."

Instead, I am flat-out saying that they are identified with the society they come from, and that nothing they do can save them from being seen as representatives of their society. And as representatives of the society that is currently bombing the hell out of moslems (did you like the video of a helicopter gunship shooting the people trying to pick up a wounded man?) they don't get the play the "speaking truth to power" card.

#135 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 06:01 PM:

The question of the qualities of "Western Civilization", islam, the christian world, or any other group is interesting (and was drawn again to my attention by Bruce Baugh's comment; huh, that was addressed to me initially.

I think we will mostly agree that two people can actually hold consistently to a philosophical position -- if one is dead, and the position hasn't been published. (i.e. any kind of really broad uniformity of belief is absurd.)

I'm not happy with the idea of completely ruling out of consideration the possibility that culture, belief, and so forth, affect behavior (in fact I'm pretty confident they DO); there needs I feel to be a way to talk about cultural tendencies of behavior usefully without stumbling so easily into clearly-untrue statements, especially statements that imply ALL Cretans are liars. And without confusing people into thinking we're making such sweeping statements.

At the same time, the "core" beliefs of a culture are often (based on behavior) not what the texts referenced in the culture would suggest. And nearly always, some people unambiguously part of the culture would deny any given thing as a core belief. I still think the concept is potentially important -- at least in the form of "what memes are circulating heavily in society at the moment". These are useful to know rhetorically (they help tell you what to appeal to at a point in time) and perhaps predictively as well.

I also think it's beneficial to be able to say things like "My culture is NOT one that tortures", for example. The times when it's most important to do this loudly may be precisely the times when it is not literally true; when one is in fact protesting recent actions by part of the culture, and trying to gather support for that rejection, to bring the actions to a stop.

I'm a little worried by a tendency I see to throw the baby out with the bathwater, by arguing that something good is not a core cultural belief because it's being rather abused at the moment ("good" in this case meaning that the person rejecting it as a core cultural belief thinks it's good; they are commenting on the culture, not the belief, by saying it's not core). People who don't want that thing to be a core belief of the culture can just grab on and say, "You're right, it's not" and go on from there, to even worse places. So it's a dangerous tactic when the issue is being debated.

#136 ::: Dos Ocho ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 06:01 PM:

Jim @ #127: Why are we supporting a pair of assholes, while at the same time demanding that moderate Muslims denounce their co-religionist assholes?

Because one group of assholes is making offensive cartoons and the other group of assholes is threatening to kill people.

#137 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 06:10 PM:

#132 Are you suggesting that two assholes with a juvenile TV show are somehow a threat to the world's second largest religion, with 1.5 billion members? (source)

I a quite aware of the number of Muslims in the world, thank you very much.

I'm suggesting that if even if 0.0001% of those people are murderously inclined, the warning from the group that apparently issued a warning is more than justified.

#138 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 06:16 PM:

I am also suggesting that it isn't just two asshole cartoonists with a TV show. It's the USA with guns and tanks and bombs. Just as the colored-moving-shapes representing a bear looks to some like Mohamed, those two assholes look to some like the USA.

And do you know something? People who look at the two asshole cartoonists and see America have a point.

#139 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 06:17 PM:

Macdonald@138: Do the people who look at the dozens of suicide bombers around the world, or at the 9/11 attackers, and see Islam, also have a point?

#140 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 06:20 PM:

Tom Whitmore, #85: "Would it be sin for a visually oriented (rather than verbally oriented) person even to read the words 'The Prophet Mohammed' because that creates a picture in the reader's mind?"

Jews are forbidden by their religion from even attempting to pronounce even the abbreviation of the name of g-d. So there's a precedent for that in Judaism. Anyone know what Islam has to say on the matter?

#141 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 06:20 PM:

Macdonald@138: Do the people who look at the dozens of suicide bombers around the world, or at the 9/11 attackers, and see Islam, also have a point?

Why, yes! Yes, David, they do.

Do I really have to explain this to you?

#142 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 06:29 PM:

But my corvid friend, Jews don't forbid anyone ELSE from making such an attempt.

#143 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 06:35 PM:

The Raven @140 -- which leads to the question of how much separation between signifier and signified is sufficient. We've all heard stories of how well a Zero Tolerance policy works. Those with training in chemistry find the concept of homeopathy rather difficult -- is there a homeopathy-of-connection effect here -- and if so, since homeopathy is based on taking a non-existently small amount of something that causes a symptom similar to the ones seen in a disease, should the smaller dose lead to a large effect in the opposite direction?

#144 ::: SAM ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 06:49 PM:

THERE IS NO NEED TO PUT RELIGOUS STUFF ITO STUPID CARTOONS JUST TO MAKE THEM FUNNY. IF PEOPLE KNOW SOMETHING MAKES OTHERS PISSED WHY THE HE** DO THEY DO IT AND BY THE WAY IM NOT AN OLD PERSON TALKING ABOUT RELIGION AM YOUNGER THAN ALL YALL ITS COMMON SENSE PEOPLE

#145 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 06:56 PM:

Welcome to Making Light, Sam.

It seems your Caps Lock key is stuck. You might want to do something about that.

#146 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 07:00 PM:

I debated whether or not to post this, but I just have to: I don't understand the current thread of this discussion at all. From where I'm standing I see two young men who, pig-headed and immature as they are, are saying they would rather die than lose their right to free speech. That's essentially what they've said in all their interviews. This isn't about making fun of one particular religion, it's about all speech being equally protected - from the KKK mailing list to... well... to South Park.

The Family Guy Episode (or the first censored Muhammad episode, the one that aired in 2006) had a strong message to this effect.

The question isn't "why are we defending some assholes?" It's "why is it worse for them to say the name Muhammad than it is for them to show Buddha doing lines of coke?" Both things happened in this most recent episode. Why are we talking about the former rather than the latter?

Their argument is that making fun of Muhammad is seen as worse than making fun of Buddha or Krishna because the followers of Muhammad threaten violence. The statement they are trying to make is that we respect the opinions of those who threaten violence more than we respect the opinions of those who suffer in peace.

This message is pretty explicit in all the recent shows related to Muhammad in South Park. Interestingly, there was an much earlier South Park episode that featured Muhammad heavily and was aired uncensored with pretty much no protest or controversy. Why was it ok to show Muhammad in June of 2001, and not in April of 2010?

#147 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 07:07 PM:

Leah@146: Why was it ok to show Muhammad in June of 2001, and not in April of 2010?

Seriously? Because the political world was different then. In June of 2001 the World Trade Center was still standing, and the US had not yet reacted to its destruction by bombing the hell out of large parts of one Islamic country and subsequently (and with even less justification) invading and occupying another.

#148 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 07:08 PM:

David: of course culture affects behavior. I just studied too much Hist. West. Civ. to feel comfortable with those comparisons.

I'm also uncomfortable -- no, I'm exasperated -- with the extent to which some pundits, commentators, and other authority figures in our society equate Western Civilization and Christianity. They're wrong on two counts. The lesser is that Christianity doesn't stop at the boundaries of The West, no matter where you draw them.

The greater error is to ignore or downplay the Islamic presence in our history, culture, and geography; also our art, music, math, science, architecture, cooking, medicine, available texts, gene pool, current population, and a very long list of Other. That's not the only lacuna; Jews have been in Europe for so long that nobody knows for sure how long they've been there. Also, the fact that the Mediterranean countries eventually converted doesn't mean that everything we picked up from classical antiquity is therefore Christian. Also, we undoubtedly inherited a lot from the pre-Christian cultures; we just can't be certain what. But Islam is the really big omission.

I love my culture and I am unchangeably a product of it, but this is not a good time for us to be patting ourselves on the back about how superior it is overall. It's good in some ways. In others, not so good.

#149 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 07:13 PM:

DDB @139:

Macdonald@138: Do the people who look at the dozens of suicide bombers around the world, or at the 9/11 attackers, and see Islam, also have a point?
They have a point. It's a stupid one. We were not attacked by Islam. We were attacked by some Islamic terrorists. You might as well say that someone shot by mafiosi was attacked by Catholicism.

Considering that many of the people who look at the 9/11 attacks and "see Islam" also believe we were attacked by Iraq, I'm not inclined to give a lot of weight to their opinions.

#150 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 07:15 PM:

It feels immutable, but I have no doubt that it would be much easier to transform me from being a liberal into a conservative than it would be to transform me from white into black, male into female, or straight into gay.

Kelly McCullough at 128, this is a fascinating assertion, and deserves a long, patient, scholarly answer, but I'm going to provide a short, somewhat shallow, non-scholarly one. It's not actually that hard to transform someone from white to black, male to female, or gay to straight. There are many, many examples out of the history of the Jim Crow South (to take just one example) of individuals whose skin color appeared "white" but whose birth certificate said "black." Read the plot of the American musical "Show Boat" to realize how common it was. Ethnographers and biologists will both tell you that there is no such category as "race." "Black" and "white" as human categories have little reality except as cultural constructs. Gender is much more mutable than we used to think. The last forty-five years of science fiction have demolished traditional gender categories. Allow me to recommend you read (if you have not done so) The Female Man by Joanna Russ. As for "straight" and "gay" -- these are as much culturally created sets of behaviors as they are biological facts. That you, personally, experience your identity as a sexual being as impervious to transformation may be an artifact of your upbringing or a creation of the culture that nurtured you, and not a biological truth.

This does not, I realize, address your suggestion that religious affiliation is more like political affiliation than it is like one's gender identity. I'm still working on that.

#151 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 07:16 PM:

South Park often takes nasty, gratuitous swipes at people who don't deserve them. It searches for ways of offending my sensibilities. Still, I find it to be inspired and I watch every episode and try to record it for rewatching later. For thirteen seasons I've been doing this. They have this way of exploring an issue and coming out the other side with an insight that knocks me over.

In this show, they were doing two things. One, they were bringing back a huge number of people they'd struck at in the past, because it was an anniversary show. Two, they molded this into a plot about the search for a holy grail of some kind that would make people immune to mockery. This (#2) goes to the heart of the South Park universe, which runs on mockery. If there was such a thing, it would end their world.

As it happens, of all the targets they've gone after in the past, just about the only one they never went after maliciously was Mohammed. Apart from his fairly innocuous turn as one of the Super Best Friends, his only point on the show has been "this person cannot be mocked." Thus, competing groups are trying to steal his 'goo' and put themselves out of range of mockery.

He's a plot point, but in order that he may not be seen, he's hidden -- first in a rental van, and then, supposedly, in a bear suit. His voice is a mere mumble, and turns out not to be his after all. He's never 'shown.' He's never 'heard.' He doesn't do anything but try to go along with people who are attempting to avert violence by having him be in some particular place in order to cool the wrath of terrorists. Not even religious terrorists, but mostly Hollywood stars.

Meanwhile, in this episode alone, we see Buddha snorting coke while Jesus watches internet porn. All the Super Best Friends (who include Joseph Smith and Moses) take turns mocking Seaman (an Aquaman clone -- they keep calling him "Semen").

We've seen Jesus in several other episodes doing un-Christlike things. We've seen the town's Catholic priest engage in murder.

Pope Benedict is on the side of evil in this episode. Every other religion, including Scientology -- and atheism as well -- has come in for specific barbs at various times in the series.

By comparison, what has Mohammed come in for? The indignity of being in a cameo on "Family Guy" (a show that goes in for juvenile shocks without any redeeming sense of purpose or ability to tell a joke). The indignity of being concealed in the mascot costume of a bear with a lolling tongue. Is he immoral? No. Is he stupid? No. Is he evil? No. Does he hurt anyone? No. This mild indignity is it, unless somebody here remembers an example from the show where it is suggested that Mohammed has actually done anything comparable to the drugs, sex, murder, or greed that Parker and Stone have depicted in just about every other religion that's come under their focus.

I don't have a conclusion to draw. I just thought you might like to hear from the one other person who will admit to liking the show.

#153 ::: Iorwerth Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 07:39 PM:

Regarding religious mutability: I'm not sure we're as free as we often like to think -- while I wouldn't rule out deliberate choice as a factor in some conversions, at least some of the time it can be closer to 'coming to see that something is or isn't the case', and there's not a lot of choice involved in that [1]. Aside from choosing not to continue living in bad faith, but that's a slightly different sort of choice.

This isn't to say that religious beliefs aren't mutable -- after all, we know that they are -- but that 'choice' may not have as much to do with this mutability as we like to think.

[1] Also, there's the whole social psychology angle -- it's fairly established that we tend to underestimate environmental and social influences on the behaviour of others.

#154 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 07:41 PM:

It is the saving grace of South Park that it is, most of the time, funny. ("Most of the time" is a pretty good average, for humor.) That doesn't mean that it isn't, a lot of the time, somewhere on the continuum from moderately sophomoric to distinctly offensive -- though it's to the show's credit that the offensiveness is pretty evenly distributed among the universe of possible targets.

I will say that I think the show is funnier (and less tacky) when it's mocking Us than when it's mocking the Other.

#155 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 07:45 PM:

Lizzy L @ 150, Either I didn't express myself at all well or you completely missed my point, or possibly both, because I'm talking about relative layers of identity not absolutes, and about the level at which I experience them and the degree to which I feel that they deserve protection as categories in terms of what is and is not socially acceptable by way of addressing them per the main thrust of the thread as I have read it.*

I'm absolutely not saying that any of those things are completely immutable or impossible to change (and if I gave you that impression I'm sincerely sorry) just that it feels to me that it would be much more easy for me to change the one than the others at a fundamental identity level, and that religion register much closer to politics for me than it does to the other categories. The statement was not meant as an absolute statement of immutability for any given characteristic it was meant as a comparative in terms of the degree to which I feel the racism of a black face routine, for example, is more pernicious than the South Park bear suit episode.**

Are you saying that you feel that making fun of someone's religion is in the same class of behavior and of the same degree as making fun of someone's race, gender, or sexual orientation, because all of those things are to some degree mutable? This is an honest question, because that's what I'm getting as the implication of your post in the context of the overall discussion and somehow I don't think that's where you intended for me to go.

Very confused.

*Speaking here entirely in terms of whether something is reprehensible speech about a class, not whether it is legally protected speech.

**Which is not to say the bear suit isn't problematic or inoffensive just that it's not in the same class for me as a black face routine.

#156 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 07:47 PM:

Ohh, and I should have said, houseguests have just arrived and I will be offline till sometime tomorrow at the earliest, so apologies for not responding to anything before then.

#157 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 08:16 PM:

I'm getting increasingly annoyed with the "But threatening death is WORSE than making fun of someone!" strawman. Yes, it is. Obviously so, I should think. However, as albatross noted way back @ 90, it's quite possible to think that death threats are awful and think that deliberately violating the expressed preference of a marginalized religious group is a jerkish thing to do. You can do both! In fact, as Jim and I have been arguing, they naturally go together. The question is, why is one of those stances proving way more popular than the other?

Second, Parker and Stone aren't speaking truth to power. They're speaking power to power: they, non-Muslims, are talking to other non-Muslims and going "Wow, Muslims sure are weird!" and then patting themselves on the back getting a nice big circle jerk going. They aren't, like Monty Python did in Life of Brian, poking fun at a culture and religion that they grew up in and are a part of.* They're participating in a discourse where the default assumption is already anti-Muslim and gleefully leaping aboard. I feel no need to defend or applaud their actions.

*Before you ask, yes, I would feel differently if this were being done in a Muslim country, by (people raised as) Muslims.

---

--E @ 106: "They may not think it, yet there are many examples of people who truly believed that Jesus was their lord and savior, and yet later in their life changed their mind. They did this without radical surgery."

And then there are plenty more who died rather than change their beliefs. Totally mutable, I know!

Religion is covered alongside race and ethnicity under hate crime laws and genocide definitions. Why do you think that is?

@ 120: "Why is is bad that South Park made fun of people who threaten (and sometimes accomplish) murder?"

The Venn circles "people who are offended by depictions of the Prophet" and "people who threaten and murder" do not, I think, overlap as nearly much as you imply. I don't mind making fun of murderers, but maybe you should pick a way of making fun of them that doesn't also insult (give or take) 1.49 billion bystanders.

TNH @ 122: "For me, this is a branch of expository theory."

It is a pretty interesting question--I'll bet there's some substantial jurisprudence on it somewhere.

#158 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 08:48 PM:

@Debra Doyle at 147

I was trying to make a gentle point with my question at 146, but it apparently fell flat.

I was trying to say that some people (the South Park creators included) feel that the decision not to show Muhammad amounts to capitulation to terrorists.

Several people in the thread have put forth other reasons it's particularly cruel or inappropriate to mention Muhammad right now. I'm not disputing that reasoning, I just feel the threat of violence is why this issue has garnered more attention than other episodes that targeted minorities.

(I apologize in advance for any awkwardness or typos here, this is my first time posting from my phone.)
I'd also agree with Kip's description of South Park's portrayal, he made a lot of points I wish I had made.

#159 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 09:23 PM:

Political beliefs aren't always as mutable as we might like to think, either. I recall raucous discussions on Libertarian mailing lists where it was easy to distinguish the ex-Democrats from the ex-Republicans.

#160 ::: jonesnori/Lenore Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 09:37 PM:

ddb@77
Equally in opposition to those who target abortion providers for assassination, which is generally American christians, but not to christians in general.

Hey now, "certain American christians", please. I'm an American Christian, and I don't target abortion providers for assassination. In fact, I know quite a few American Christians who don't. My guess would be the vast majority, in fact, including our gracious hosts.

#161 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 09:48 PM:

Xopher, #142: "But my corvid friend, Jews don't forbid anyone ELSE from making such an attempt."

Hmmmm. Jews have not had the power to do so for a very long time. I wonder what the history is?

Tom Whitmore, #143: "which leads to the question of how much separation between signifier and signified is sufficient"

In Judaic belief, the zone of the signified seems to grow over time. So, for instance, Orthodox Jews write G-d, even though that is not His name. I don't know very much about Judaic belief and practice in this area, though, & would be delighted to see some comments from Jews on the matter.

#162 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 10:04 PM:

Lenore@160: The converse of a true implication is not inherently true -- and you're both doing that, AND ignoring my even more explicit disclaimer in the next clause (which you have also quoted).

#163 ::: Sarah E ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 10:08 PM:

Teresa - utterly off-topic, but wouldn't the pantomime horse containing the two gardeners have fallen apart when placed in the harness?

#164 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 10:09 PM:

Teresa@149: Is associating the South Park producers with "the west" any more fair than associating the 9/11 attackers with "islam"?

#165 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 10:33 PM:

Sarah E @163 No, honest, they wouldn't fall apart. Not if they buttoned the two halves together.

I saw it in a Pogo ep. I think. I was pretty young, and it was a genderless horse. I'm quite sure about the buttons, though. Buttons are key in pantomime.

#166 ::: jonesnori/Lenore Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2010, 11:07 PM:

ddb @ 162:
Is that what you meant? I read it as American Christians as opposed to Christians everywhere.

Also, let me be clear that I didn't think you really meant all American Christians, either, just that I thought the remark could be read that way.

No worries!

#167 ::: Scooby ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 02:21 AM:

Man in Bear Suit: And I would have gotten away with it if hadn't been for you pesky Muslims!


(This also sums up the problem of mixed cultural references.)

#168 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 03:20 AM:

I should just like to clarify that I never said that SP was not funny. As others have pointed out, it is often brilliantly funny and pointedly observant by being crassly stupid. The argument about it somehow representing the same force that drops bombs on people is just stupid, however. By extension, so does Making Light [it lives in the same culture, it draws on some of the same resources for its existence, it implicitly validates by its mere existence the surrounding political system, etc etc]. Work yourself up into enough of a lather, and you can decide that Noam Chomsky, by the very act of his tolerated dissent, is an agent of US imperialism, serving to validate claims about freedom that are thereafter used to justify criminal acts.

#169 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 04:38 AM:

AndrDrew @108, surely you meant Ceci n'est pas une prophète.

#170 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 05:29 AM:

#168 The argument about it somehow representing the same force that drops bombs on people is just stupid, however.

The argument that 'we can go to your country, blow your shit up, and, as an added bonus, mock you!'
is stupid.

Yes, Making Light also represents the West. And if we were mocking Islam we'd be equally wrong.

#171 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 08:45 AM:

Whose country? Ain't nobody blowing up Saudi Arabia, which is where, of course, dear old Osama comes from, as did the big Mo himself. One cannot cut off from the avenues of ridicule a whole global religion, just because of some rather complex and ugly facts about recent politics. [And one might note in passing that for at least the last 5 years, much of the death in Iraq, which is of course distressing beyond words, has been caused by political factions allied to different sects of Islam blowing each other's supporters up. Not all, but much.]

Meanwhile, Islam is a ld f stpd bllcks, s s vry thr pc f nnsns sky-fry, d-s-y'r-tld, hrrchcl, ptrrchcl prmtvsm tht th mjrty f ppl sm t fl th nd t sbscrb t. Fr dng s, thy r fls, vn f mny f thm r msgdd nd bsd [by thr wn 'mstrs'] fls. vr blln ppl r lyl dhrnts, t grtr r lssr xtnt, f n nstttn, th Rmn Cthlc Chrch, whch sms t hv spnt mch f ts tm n th pst hlf-cntry fndng sf nchs fr kddy-fddlrs. Yt t clms t b th nly thrttv vc f Gd n rth. f n nstttn lk tht dsn't dsrv mckry, wht ds? Whn slmc sppsd 'schlrs' prnnc tht mmdst fml drss css rthqks, wht chc ds rtnl prsn hv bt t lgh?

Plrlsm rqrs tht w d nt try t stp ppl blvng ths nnsns by frc, bt th ntn tht w shld ccrd ny knd f ctv rspct t srs f sts f blfs, ch f whch cntrdcts th thrs, nd ch f whch rptdly ssrts ts wn bslt sprrty nt nly t th thrs, bt t ny frm f sclr xstnc, s nt plrlsm, t s stp dwn th rd t lsng t.

'Respecting' someone because they demand it with threats of violence is not only an absurd and self-contradictory idea in itself, but also a licence for such people to make further demands, backed up with further threats. Robust mockery is one of the few defences we have against the creeping assertion of compulsory respect for an ever-lengthening list of religious demands. If we don't use it, and every other device at our disposal, to hold open a secular space, then that space will close, because there are powerful people of every major religion who really want that to happen - from the ridiculous-yet-dangerous [Sarah Palin] to the just plain dangerous - like Hindu nationalists who regularly organise pogroms against everyone they hate.

The same argument can and should be extended to any other respect-demanding institutions, including, for example, the nation-state and its armed forces. Like anyone else they have to earn respect by doing good things.

#172 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 09:27 AM:

alex@171: I certainly hope you were being deliberately rude up there, because I'd hate to think that you'd managed to reach those heights by unwitting accident.

#173 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 10:46 AM:

Krusty the Klown: (with zany inflections) "So have a merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, kwazy Kwanzaa, a tip-top Tet... (suddenly serious, eyes downcast) and a solemn & dignified Ramadan."

Is this mockery?

#174 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 11:21 AM:

Alex @#171: I say Bravo!

"... stupid bollocks, as is every other piece of nonsense sky-fairy, do-as-you're-told, hierarchical, patriarchical primitivism that the majority of people seem to feel the need to subscribe to" summons up my own feeling about all such systems (which have probably been corrupted and institutionalized out of more innocent, admirable beginnings in some obscure person who did *not* preach killing for one's cause).

Maybe it's just my agnosticism showing, or a tendency to distrust large bureaucracies that have been entrenched long enough to become far too corrupt -- millennia of elaboration and rot. Religions have produced many wonderful things, and still do, but the aspect that Alex singles out shows humans near our worst.

So much anger and self-righteousness, from all sides! Except for actual death threats, this Thread shows it bubbling up yet again. Sigh.

Frivolous PS: Aren't *all* cartoons blasphemous according to some tenets, just by depicting genuine scenes and figures rather than abstractions?

#175 ::: sharon ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 11:45 AM:

It's a story in the DAILY FAIL, for christ's sake. Until you get a better source (ie, not a scumrag for racists and bigots) it's not even worth commenting on.

#176 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 11:48 AM:

Aren't *all* cartoons blasphemous according to some tenets, just by depicting genuine scenes and figures rather than abstractions?

Except "Worker and Parasite," of course. What the hell was that?

(I couldn't find a YouTube where both parts were together, except auf Español.)

#177 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 11:54 AM:

Faren @174:
So much anger and self-righteousness, from all sides!

Yes indeed, up to and including alex @171.

#178 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 12:01 PM:

The history of the political commentary cartoon in the U.S. is one of exaggeration, mockery and telling truth to power, as well as outright lying, as with, for one example, the continuing ape libel and Uncle Sam figures.

Societies as evolutionary success stategy evolve systems of courtesies, manners and politenesses, in discourse and behaviors, in order to calm, smooth and defuse those many areas between individuals and among groups that cause offense and disagreement.

More lately, particularly in the U.S., such strategies have been deliberately destroyed and replaced with the strategies and tactics of scorched earth when it comes to discourse and behaviors. This determination to deliberately be coarse, mendacious and cruel, to CREATE discord rather than smooth the troubled waters, has been lucrative for many individuals and discrete groups, while contributing to the unraveling of the larger society by creating and emphasizing the divisions.

This is partly because our entertainment and information (i.e. journalism) industries have wittingly or unwittingly allied themselves with the expanionists of corporate hegemony, whose goal is to own everything. Thus the rlimbaughs and South Parkslaugh all the way to bank, but whether deliberately or not, are feeding angers, justified or not.

When you look at the history of political discourse and illustration that lead up to the Civil War you can see these arcs. Though the cartooning's high days of political commentary and influence arrived post the War of Southern Aggression, you can see their effect in ratcheting up the inflammatory discourse, as well as their reflection of the racheting. You can see the same with these discourses' influences in the creation of the French Revolution, as Simon Schama delineates so well in his history concerning these matters.

Myself, I'm advocating compulsory attendence by everyone in this country to a daily class in which dancing, courtesies, manners, conversation and politenesses are taught.

Love, C.

#179 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 12:16 PM:

Additionally I suggest paying for these compulsory classes: teachers, materials and classrooms, by a levying a tax upon the gross earnings of the entertainment-journalism industry complex.

This is clearly going to be a most popular and reasonable recommendation which will be accepted by all and sundry immediately without opposition.

Love, c.

#180 ::: Bruce H. ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 12:52 PM:

>> ... panders to and perpetuates anti-Muslim bigotry.

You say that like it's a bad thing.

#181 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 12:54 PM:

Bruce H., welcome to Making Light.

#182 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 01:12 PM:

alex, #171: You spit, I, er, bob my head.*

Croak!

* The original saying is, "You spit, I bow." Zen again.

#183 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 02:08 PM:

alex @ 171: Speaking as a life-long secular atheist, that rant was bilious effluvium worthy of the most spittle-encrusted religious zealot. Clearly in the irrational-hatred armsrace, you're playing to win.

It is not that you've created a laughable caricature of religion, casting sweeping generalizations over billions of people across thousands of years--that is done all the time. No, what is so special is that you've managed to convince yourself that your hateful parody has somehow captured the essence of religious belief--you announce with such uncritical certainty that you know what the fundamental character of religion is: patriarchy, hierarchy, authoritarianism, and naught else.

Ignore the rest! Ignore the solace, the comfort, the spiritual fulfillment that religion has provided to countless individuals! Ignore the numerous religious leaders who preach tolerance and love! Ignore, even, the impetus for charity and kindness and freedom and equality that religion has provided through out the ages! These things are merely accidents, impositions on the true nature of the beast: vile, corrupt, authoritarian, sexist. In this you are certain, your conviction as certain and blind as any religion has ever produced.

#184 ::: Jeff Davis ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 02:12 PM:

You say that like it's a bad thing.

Indeed I do.

#185 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 02:36 PM:

heresiarch @183, it seems to me that alex is talking about a specific subset of religious beliefs -- those most people subscribe to.

You might argue that less than 50% of people have this particular cluster of beliefs -- but you wouldn't be able to argue it down below about 40%. As for the actual number who believe something that could reasonably be described as "nonsense", if you're in fact an atheist, the number must, by your standards, be closer to 85%.

#186 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 03:43 PM:

Bruce H. 180: Anti-Moslem bigotry IS a bad thing. And it's a bad thing that's currently causing a lot of very bad things to happen in the US right now.

Hmm. Are there any forms of bigotry that are NOT bad things? I can't come up with any. If it's bigotry, it's by definition irrational and bad-hearted, and only bad things are both.

#187 ::: Sm ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 04:06 PM:

Jm Mcdnld scrw y!!!!!!!!
tr lckng yr mth fr nc!

[posted from the no doubt charming vicinity of 75.57.156.135]

#188 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 04:14 PM:

alex #171:

I think regardless of the value of the beliefs, looking for ways to offend people who hold them for the sake of offending or being seen to offend is shitty. It seems like there's an extra helping of shitty involved when the group you're trying to offend is relatively unpopular and powerless, though as you and others have pointed out, the Southpark guys don't exactly shy away from offending the powerful, either. And honestly, this is really common in our society.

As for whether religion is all nonsense and its adherents all fools, that's one of those questions that humans have gone round and round on since we've had words with which to go round and round on it. I imagine there have always been plenty of people who didn't buy into the local religion at all, and many others who just kind of found the whole thing boring and creepy[1].

The fact that there are apparently decent and sensible people who are religious seems like pretty strong evidence against the idea that all religious adherents are fools. But not ironclad evidence, since people do compartmentalize their beliefs--many a brilliant author or scientist has beliefs about politics that a fairy-tale character would laugh at, frex.

Some ideas can't be expressed without giving offense. Yours couldn't (you could express it in more polite words, but you couldn't express the idea without giving offense to some readers, since you're calling their basic beliefs into question and saying they're fools for believing them). That seems perfectly reasonable to me--the price we pay for being able to talk about touchy subjects is risking offense, and a world where no offense could be given would also be one in which nothing very important could ever be discussed.

#189 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 04:29 PM:

Presumably, the author of #187 does not take kindly to polite suggestions.

#190 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 04:43 PM:

Missed an 'o' when disemvowelling 187.

Wow, someone got that flamey just because you asked him to take off his caps key? Somebody's either 12 or took wayyy too many of the wrong kind of drugs!

#191 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 04:56 PM:

Xopher @190:

So I did. How foolish of me.

Fixed now.

#192 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 04:59 PM:

On the other hand, unless the disemvoweling also fixed the capitalization, he did at least take note of the suggestion and turn off the CAPS LOCK....

#193 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 05:05 PM:

alex@171: nonsense sky-fairy, do-as-you're-told, hierarchical, patriarchical primitivism

Alex, could I interest you in earth-fairy, do-what-you-will, egalitarian, gender-bending technophile nonsense?

#194 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 05:30 PM:

Xopher #186:

It seems like the term "bigotry" implies unjust judgments or assumptions, or perhaps "all X are Y" kinds of reasoning about large diffuse groups about whom statistical reasoning (a larger fraction of X are Y than the fraction of non-X who are Y) would be more appropriate.

It's not the least bit unreasonable, nor (IMO) wrong, to note and use group statistics in daily life. However, there are a lot of ways for that to go wrong, given the natural flaws in the human mind when it comes to ingroup/outgroup moral decisions.

#195 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 05:51 PM:

TNH @122: people have a right to take things seriously, though IMO not to maim each other for failing to do so.

This is something that's been coming back to me throughout this thread.

I'm very, very uncomfortable with the imperative "stop taking things so seriously." Like "lighten up" and "chill out," it privileges the speaker's experience over that of the one spoken to. And the speaker hasn't been in the listener's shoes, doesn't know what kind of emotional trigger the listener is reacting to, and generally has no right to assert his/her own emotional level as the objectively correct emotional level of response.

Besides, when it comes to a small group of people issuing death threats to Danish or U.S. cartoonists, "taking things too seriously" isn't the problem. Feeling entitled to issue death threats in response to taking offense is the problem.

That's the crux of it. We are all entitled to take things seriously. Problems arise when, in the course of taking things seriously, we feel entitled to expect action of others or impose punishment. Not all actions/punishments are equally justified responses.

So. Calling out a sexist asshole for bullying a female editor in private correspondence is a somewhat more justifiable response than issuing death threats is, to the stimulus of "taking something seriously."


heresiarch @157: I'm getting increasingly annoyed with the "But threatening death is WORSE than making fun of someone!" strawman.

I'm not entirely sure it's a strawman. I don't disagree with you when you say "we can be outraged at BOTH assholes ridiculing Islam AND the assholes making death threats!" But once people begin to respond to the ridicule with death threats, this can make reasonable people very, very reluctant to agree with the issuers of death threats on anything, even the reasonable premise that ridiculing a religion is offensive.

It's a lot like the sort of online and TV conversations that occurred in the wake of 9/11. In some circles, any consideration of Al Queda's motives was considered tantamount to treason. If you didn't agree that They Hate Our Freedoms, you'd get lambasted as a Blame-America-Firster™. (Speaking from personal experience as the lambastee, here.) Anger at the U.S. is wholly reasonably, given our deplorable foreign policy. But once the terrorists attacked, any consideration of their motives and whether their anger (and ONLY their anger, not their terrorism!) was valid began, to some, to look too much like Concessions To Terrorists to be borne.

I'm not saying this reaction to terrorism is correct, but its logic isn't entirely bonkers.

And then I can't help but wonder if a lot of people are talking past each other in this discussion, in that some see the South Park creators as being the powerful (big media voice) making fun of the powerless (minority, non-privileged, and often outright persecuted religious community in the U.S., to the point of many U.S. citizens advocating "bombing those Muslims back to the stone age" even as actual bombs are falling on Iraq and Afghanistan), and others see it as the defenders of the powerless (those getting serious death threats in the mail) poking the powerful (those making death threats).

I think in the powerful/powerless equation, death threats (and terrorism) are a non-trivial factor. It's unquestionable that a group of people purporting (albeit inaccurately and unfairly) to represent a religion are asserting the power to kill those who anger them by insufficiently respecting their religion. I'm no fan of South Park, but I'm wholly sympathetic with the refusal to let such an assertion stand unchallenged.


And among the many things that make me uncomfortable (which discomfort entitles me to nothing at all, not even a sympathetic ear; but I know there are sympathetic ears here, so) is the idea that mutable identity traits are fair game for ridicule. No, the fact that one can change one's religion or political affiliation or the way one dresses without undue monetary or physical hardship does not, in and of itself, make ridicule OK. If you could switch your sexual orientation as easily as flicking a light switch, gay-baiting still wouldn't be OK. And I don't think it unreasonable to expect my choice of religion to be treated with respect, to expect others not to humiliate me in the public square for my religion, so long as I'm not hurting anyone with my choice.

And if I were, surely it would not be my religion itself that merited the ridicule, but instead my hypothetical tendency to mistreat people in the name of my religion, right?

Mutability is beside the point. The point is, who has the power? It's not always going to be an easy yardstick to apply, since the ridiculing group may have less power in some ways but more power in others than has the target of their ridicule (media reach versus recipient of death threat), but it's a better yardstick than "did they choose it freely? Can they change their mind? Cool, let's humiliate them until they do change their minds!"

Which brings us to blackface minstrel shows. That sort of ridicule was wrong not because it made fun of an immutable characteristic, but because it was a powerful group ridiculing a powerless group.

#196 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 06:03 PM:

Alex @171, as opposed to the entirely rational system modern Americans live under, according to which a hierarchy of special privileges and powers are granted to a handful of people according to an immaterial quality called "the will of the people". Said quality being divined via a complicated and mathematically sub-optimal process that assumes that irregular but historically determined blocks of terrain have desires.

And don't get me started about the priesthood of "judges" empowered with deciding whether the laws we live under are in accord with our revered scriptures. On the one hand, there's the progressive tendency, which holds that the scriptures gave birth to a living spirit, whose will should guide interpretation. On the other, you've got the fundamentalist tendency, which holds that scripture should be read as it would have been understood by the ancients, and no freedom allowed that isn't found in those scriptures, ignoring the face that the ancients specifically wrote into the scriptures the command that one should not interpret them that way.

Compared to this stuff, sharia looks straightforward.

#197 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 07:03 PM:

Sorry Kelly at 155, I did misunderstand your point. Ignore every thing I said, I think. It won't be helpful to this discussion.

Are you saying that you feel that making fun of someone's religion is in the same class of behavior and of the same degree as making fun of someone's race, gender, or sexual orientation, because all of those things are to some degree mutable?

I don't understand what you mean by "the same class" or "the same degree." I don't think that a characteristic's "mutability" is the deciding factor as to whether it's okay or not okay to make fun of it.

In a tolerant and pluralistic society, such as the one most of us would like to live in, one ought to be able to make fun of pretty damn near anything without getting shot. For example: I wear glasses. Nothing to be done about it. If someone makes jokes about my wearing glasses, I don't care: my sense of self is not invested in my glasses or lack of them. If you make fun of the color of my skin, I won't care. I don't have to defend my skin color. If you make fun of my family's ethnicity (Jewish) I might laugh, or I might not, depending how nasty you are. If you're very nasty, not only will I not laugh, but I might dump a beer on your head. (If my friends are around to restrain me, or if I am feeling really mellow, I might not.) However, I promise not to shoot you. If you make jokes about pedophile priests, I may or may not find them funny, but I probably won't be offended, because I suspect you couldn't say anything in a joke that I haven't already imagined. If I am offended, I promise not to shoot you.

However, even in this pluralistic society, folks are not all that tolerant, and outside of it, there's a world in which individuals react violently to words they perceive as attacking, denigrating, or showing contempt for their sense of self, including what you or I would think of as non-threatening humorous words. Humorists need to be aware of that, if only out of courtesy to their neighbors. Is it morally appropriate for people to throw bombs or shoot guns at people who make fun of their god, their sexuality, or their mother? No, of course not. In the peaceable kingdom people would not react violently to jokes, even nasty ugly mean-spirited ones. (In the peaceable kingdom, people would not make nasty mean-spirited ugly jokes, even if they are funny.)

#198 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 07:27 PM:

Nicole @ 195:

I agree with a great deal of what you said, though I think there's more at issue here than the balance of power and powerlessness.

First, it's a principle of Anglo-American jurisprudence, one that many different schools of political philosophy agree on, to judge people's actions, not their thoughts (except when the issue of intention becomes important). So when mocking people, why should we (including most of us in this thread who are citizens of Western nations) mock what people think in preference to what they do? And religion is much more about what people think, except for the particular descriptions of ceremonies of worship. And mocking those is, it seems to me, rather lame. So why not find something else to mock, other than religion?

Second, while I agree with the Western notion of allowing almost any speech so as to promote discourse, I also agree with a number of commenters here that there are obligations on the citizens of any polity to promote civility; deliberately destroying civility is damaging to any society, and I think you need to have a good reason to run the risk of that damage. I don't think that many of the people doing so in the US today have that good a reason.

Thirdly, we need to remain aware that just because one side of an argument is wrong, the other side is not necessarily right and inversely if just because one side is right does not mean the other is wrong. I think some of the commenters here, not all by any means, have lost sight of that. So because South Park has the right to mock just about anything does not mean that others don't have the right to object that mockery. And just because some objectors may carry that too far into things like death threats does not mean that others don't have the right to object in more civil ways.

#199 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 07:44 PM:

Lizzy L @ 197 Ahh, that explains where I misunderstood you as well, though I'm not at all confident that I could articulate how I did it. Thank you for the long form answer.

#200 ::: Jeff Davis ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2010, 07:58 PM:

Nicole @ 195:

The power question is pretty interesting. Are Islamic fundamentalists "asserting the power" to kill those who offend them? They are asserting the moral right to do so, but that's only an expression of power insofar as they can (a) mobilize their allies to actually attack the offenders and (b) coerce others to remain silent to avoid offending them in the future. They don't have any institutional power to exercise their "rights," but they do have a (very small) constituency willing to do it autonomously. I'd say the Islamists' power is fairly negligible, but non-zero.

The South Park guys, on the other hand, can rely on an overwhelmingly powerful (but not omnipotent) state and ideological apparatus to defend both their free speech rights and their physical safety. Courts of law and the court of popular opinion will allow them to say just about anything they want about Muhammad and Islam; they have a highly visible corporate-funded platform for their views; cops and spies will try to prevent any kind of violent assault. In this situation, they are in a position of great power relative to the Islamists -- not to mention any ordinary, non-radical Muslims they happen to offend.

(I'm getting an error message when I attempt to preview. Apologies in advance if this results in multiple posts.)

#201 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 12:02 AM:

When it comes to 'giving offence to others' my general approach is 'don't'. Try really hard. If I manage to do so anyway, my base response is to apologise and try to do better. But a proscription against drawing Mohammed is on the order of 'Don't put beans up your nose'. It's not something I want to do, but then someone brings it up and immediately I'm thinking about what pencils to use, what aspect, what colours.

I can't help but think it's just borrowing trouble, for anyone to say, 'you mustn't do X' where X is the sort of thing no one not a convert would think of doing, and anyone who is a convert would already accept as out-of-bounds. Why bring it up? What's the point, if it isn't to invent a problem between us?

#202 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 12:16 AM:

pericat:

There are plenty of times when there's no way to discuss something without offending many people. In that case, I don't think it makes sense to automatically refuse to discuss it or to apologize for it.

Unintentional offense is usually worth trying to avoid, if it can be done at a reasonable cost.

Intentional offense for its own sake is almost always the mark of a jerk.

Inevitable offense as a necessary part of discussing things you care about or want to discuss is one of those annoying bits of reality you just have to live with. If we want to discuss religion or politics or morals at all, for example, we will risk offending one another and many passers by.

#203 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 01:03 AM:

albatross @202 There are plenty of times when there's no way to discuss something without offending many people.

I agree. I'm right now caught up in a dilemma of the personal and the political. Ideas must be open for discussion, no matter how raucous that discussion may be. At the same time, between people face to face, if there are no limits they may come to blows, or at the least the dinner party ends in tears.

#204 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 01:26 AM:

pericat @201, I don't necessarily think that no non-Muslim would ever consider depicting Mohammed. The most immediate example to come to mind is Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe, where he does depict other major religious figures. (Mohammed is always offscreen, or in a house with a speech-bubble coming from a window, or some such.) Gonick's clearly having fun with the constraint, rather than feeling limited by it.

#205 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 01:46 AM:

Bruce: I do not think we're fundamentally in disagreement. I think your post adds necessary elements, nuances, clarifications that I failed to adequately address in my own post through lack of ability, or through feeling overwhelmed with how long the thread and my response were both getting, but not through lack of agreement.

Jeff: When I said the issuer of a death threat asserts the power to kill, I meant "they are asserting that they have the power to kill." A death threat, by definition, communicates the intent to kill, which intent makes little sense without the desire to convince the recipient that the threat is substantial.

I concede it may not actually BE substantial. The person issuing the threat may be incapable of making good on it. They may even know they're incapable of making good on it--they may be bluffing. The distinction is irrelevant because the intent in all cases is to put the recipient in fear of their life. If South Park's creators respond to such threats with ridicule, I can't criticize that.

(I'll criticize them for a broad-brush implementation of the ridicule, such that all practitioners of Islam get spattered alongside the death-threat-issuing-loonies, though. I'm not a South Park fan.)

Which is to say that issuers of death threats are by definition terrorists. They try to get what they want by terrorizing their targets. Which means they are attempting to assert power (of life and death) over their targets. They make the attempt by asserting that they already *have* that power and will, unless certain requirements are met, exercise it.

So while you're right in that the institutionalized power imbalance may not be in the favor of the death-threat-issuers, they are actively attempting to implement a psychological/emotional power imbalance in their favor via terrorizing the death-threat-recipient.

It may not exactly be "the powerless making fun of the powerful", but it's not unrelated. Just as the terrorist tries to gain power through asserting that they have power, the threat recipient resists giving the terrorist power precisely by asserting that they do *not* have that power. That's what the ridicule is all about: "You think you can kill me? You think you have the RIGHT to kill me? You think the threat of killing me will make me give in to your demands? ...You're really pathetic, you know that?"

None of this is to deny that there are other power dynamics going on in the interaction. Like I said, institutionalized power may be in the threat-recipient's favor. It certainly is in the case of South Park's creators. But the attempted power grab that death threats represent--the assertion that "I have the power to kill you, and will unless you do as I say"--is a significant part of the interaction.


Nothing like a really long-winded attempt to clarify a previous long-winded post. Yesterday I might not have posted at all, tomorrow I will attempt clarity via shorter sentences rather than long long posts, but today, today we have...

#206 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 01:48 AM:

Gah.

I should have said, A death threat, by definition, communicates the intent to kill, which intent communication makes little sense without the desire to convince the recipient that the threat is substantial.

And so to bed.

#207 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 01:53 AM:

Yarrow, #193: "Alex, could I interest you in earth-fairy, do-what-you-will, egalitarian, gender-bending technophile nonsense?"

You could interest me. I decided years ago that all the major religions are past their use-by dates. Alex is angry. I generally take "You spit, I bow" for a maxim in this area--staying angry is hard, and hardening. But why aren't more of us angry? There is plenty to be angry about. Why cling to something that seems to be increasingly out of touch?

Heresiarch, #183: "No, what is so special is that you've managed to convince yourself that your hateful parody has somehow captured the essence of religious belief [...]" He didn't actually say that. And he's got a legitimate beef. I am all for the positives of religion. But where are they? Not in the ambiguous threats that started this discussion. Nor in all the other horrors we have seen in the name of religion. If you say, in the hearts of the religious, fair enough. But why not in the hearts of the priests? Why not in the hearts of the religious leaders?

The major world religions, all of them I think, have outlived their times. The strength is all at the edges, but there is an emptiness at the heart, where once something vital stood. Hence the radicalism, the grasping at power.

Me, I am flying towards the dawn.

#208 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 03:09 AM:

The Raven @207:
there is an emptiness at the heart, where once something vital stood. Hence the radicalism, the grasping at power.

Actually, whatever emptiness at the heart, whatever radicalism and grasping at power you're seeing has been there, in Christianity at least, for centuries. Even the most cursory of glances at history shows that (to pick the one I am most familiar with) the Catholic Church has spent more time in a state of near-hopeless corruption than it has in a state of visible grace.

Such is the inevitable fate of institutions made up of humans. As Avram points out, institutions supposedly dedicated to justice bend toward favoritism, and those designed to represent all people tend to drift into cronyism. Anywhere there is power there will be grasping at it.

It's a Catch:22, because much of the (very substantial) benefits that I derive from my particular religious observances* are the product of community. And community is made up of humans, and round we go again. And, as Vetinari points out in Discworld about crime, organized religion looks much better when the alternative is the disorganized sort.

The strength is all at the edges

In that, it's like a tree. The trunk isn't where the action and the growth is. For that, you have to look at the xylem and the phloem, right there on the outside of the whole assemblage.

-----
* which benefits include the things that I need to be able to go out and try to improve the world for other people. This is not a one-way flow.

#209 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 03:17 AM:

The above is not to say, by the way, that one doesn't have a responsibility to strive to bend the arc of a corruptible institution back to justice. Of course we do. Some of us do it from outside, some from within.

#210 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 04:28 AM:

Raven, I'm not angry; why would you think I'm angry? I made it perfectly clear that a pluralist society can only tolerate religious nonsense - attempting in some aggressive fashion to ban it is to aim for a solution almost worse than the problem.

It is also a fact of the human condition that an awful lot of the goodness in the world has ended up in religious packaging. But the goodness could just as easily exist without the packaging, whereas the packaging by its very insistent and allegedly unarguable nature is a problem we could well do without. But not by banning it. Mocking it, however, is just fine.

I see the UK govt is grovelling before the pope today, because an internal memo, obviously written as a joke, suggested he could visit an abortion clinic and bless a gay civil ceremony while he visited. All that was doing is pointing out the clear incompatibility between the vision of civil inclusion actually functioning in the UK, and the processes of exclusion and stigmatisation that the pope loudly and repeatedly proclaims - in the name of apostolic authority - ought to happen.

Between a tasteless joke and a petulant authoritarian, which would you pick?

#211 ::: Jeff Davis ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 05:18 AM:

Nicole @ 205: You make a strong case, and I think I am convinced by it. Thanks for elaborating! I'm glad you were feeling long-winded today. :)

#212 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 08:30 AM:

Alex@210: Between a tasteless joke and a petulant authoritarian, which would you pick?

As a First Amendment purist (on a level which, if my concern were firearms, would probably have me categorized as a "free speech nut"), I'm all about the universal right to make tasteless jokes on any subject, petulant authoritarians included.

That doesn't require me to think that any particular joke, tasteless or otherwise, is funny. And it certainly allows me to say so when I think they aren't.

#213 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 08:42 AM:

I think that the cruel vulgarity of South Park is a crucial feature in our governing culture, and not just one of those things Westerners do when given the chance. Movement conservatism thrives on attacking everything that might restrain it, and on glorifying the sense that others are inferior: the vice-president's "fuck you" on the Senate floor, the president's mockery of people on Death Row, their shared enthusiasm for torture scenarios, the political application of shock-jock ambience by Rush Limbaugh and others, Michael Ledeen's "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business," Thomas Friedman's "Suck on this".

It's not an innocent or neutral approach to the world - it's right at the heart of our war-loving, torture-loving, rights-hating, anti-democratic, anti-humane hegemony's style. When outsiders pick on it as part of the mindset and motives that lead to their deaths by the hundred thousand and misery by the million, they're absolutely right, and when we talk about it, we need to remember that what we're talking about is the right to make American culture exactly what it needs to be for modern warmaking.

(And yes, it's entirely compatible with their preferred style of holiness. When you're saved the antinomian way, you have complete liberty to live as monstrously as you choose. Indeed, depending on the details of your doctrine, it may glorify God all the more.)

Possibly the price is worth it. I just know that I find myself unable to enjoy that kind of thing at all any more, and that I've been purging my personal collection of works in that style, as the beginning of making mental and spiritual space for something better.

#214 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 08:43 AM:

alex @210:

It's rarely a good idea for governments to use humor to make their points. Like the internet, international relations tends to strip too much of the context off to make humor effective. At best you end up with "bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" or the President searching under his podium for WMDs. It gets worse from there.

Also, how do you think British Catholics, who are as much citizens of the polity as you, feel about the matter? Included in society, fairly represented by their government, safe to follow their own beliefs? (Remember as well that even among British Christians, Catholics are second-class citizens, with a long history of official discrimination and disrespect. It's still the one religious affiliation that disqualifies one from the succession.)

It could have been really effective as a pointed magazine article, a newspaper editorial, a speech (except by an elected official or civil servant), or a blog post. It's not, however, appropriate from a government which is supposed to represent all of its citizens, even the ones you disagree with. And it's not really the best approach to take from a government that wants its other pronouncements taken seriously by the international community.

So, yeah, apology in this case. Because governments are not like private citizens, and don't have their freedom of action.

#215 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 09:24 AM:

Here's a link to an article about the memo in question, by the way.

#216 ::: RobW ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 09:34 AM:

Yarrow@193

Alex, could I interest you in earth-fairy, do-what-you-will, egalitarian, gender-bending technophile nonsense?

That reminds me, I really should try to make it to Burning Man this year. I live in Nevada, for cryin' out loud.

#217 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 12:47 PM:

1) In much of the world, television is explicitly controlled by the government. Persons in those parts of the world may interpret something on US television as the explicit position of the US government, and will conflate that position with other actions of the US government.

2) It is unclear to me that anyone actually made a death threat, any more than I am threatening someone with bodily harm when I tell him "Stay out of [name of bar] on payday nights."

#218 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 01:07 PM:

Abi @208: As Avram points out, institutions supposedly dedicated to justice bend toward favoritism, and those designed to represent all people tend to drift into cronyism.

While that's true, it wasn't the point I was trying to make.

The point I was trying to make was that we post-Enlightenment moderns like to think we know what religion is, and what secular civic ideals are, and that there's a hard line between them, but I think that line's kinda blurry and at some points non-existent.

The conflict between Stone-and-Parker and the handful of radical Sunni Muslims who object to depictions of Muhammed is a religious conflict on both sides. The Sunni Muslims object to the insult done to the memory of their prophet; the Western cartoonists object to the insult done to their ideal of free speech.

The parallel's not perfect, of course. The cartoonists are endorsing freedom of action, and using mockery; the Sunnis are endorsing conformity to religious authority, and using threats of violence. And the ongoing wars and military occupations complicate things too.

#219 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 01:21 PM:

@217 Jim Macdonald

Would you feel similarly if someone posted a photo of George Tiller on a website along with the names of all current doctors who perform late-term abortions? What if Bill O'Reilly delivered that message?

What if someone mailed other working abortion doctors a picture of George Tiller and warnings that they would end up like him? (It is reported that the staff of South Park recieved just such a letter: one with an attached picture of Theo Van Gough).

I'd agree that it might not fit the strictest definition of death threat -- none of the people who said that Tiller's death should serve as an example to other doctors were charged with making death threats.

I do feel that these are similar circumstances: angry religious people using a murder perpetrated by someone who shares their beliefs in order to cause terror. While it might not be a death threat, it is an attempt to use violence to make people afraid to exercise their rights.

I'm definitely not suggesting all Muslims agree with the site that posted the photos of Theo Van Gough and the threats against Stone and Parker, any more than I'm suggesting all Christians agree with any of the many outlets that used Tiller's death as a warning to other doctors. I am saying that the people who use such things as "warnings" most likely share beliefs with the original murderers and are using those murders to promote terror.

#220 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 01:37 PM:

Would you feel similarly if someone posted a photo of George Tiller on a website along with the names of all current doctors who perform late-term abortions? What if Bill O'Reilly delivered that message?

What makes you think you have the vaguest idea about how I "feel"? I'm trying to explain something here. Listen up. Pay attention. You might learn something.

#221 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 01:52 PM:

Jim Macdonald @ 217: "2) It is unclear to me that anyone actually made a death threat, any more than I am threatening someone with bodily harm when I tell him "Stay out of [name of bar] on payday nights.""

It's funny--the group in question said "We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show. This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them." Now it's patently obvious that the intent was to threaten Stone and Parker with death while drawing short of "We're going to kill you" explicitness--to get the offensive message across while shielding themselves from criticism by dancing around technicalities. In other words, they dressed their threat up in a bear suit.

#222 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 02:28 PM:

Avram @218:

Also a cool and excellent point, but I was so struck by the other implications of your comment that I undervalued it.

#223 ::: Laramie Sasseville ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 02:46 PM:

@122 Teresa. You may watch the movements of meaningless colored shapes, but that's not what most viewers are up to.

I didn't say the shapes were meaningless; but the meaning is in the mind of the observer, not inherent to the shapes. Considering the drawing style of South Park I doubt that their bear suit even looks very much like an actual bear suit, though it can obviously stand as a symbol for one.

#224 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 03:13 PM:

albatross @ 202:
If we want to discuss religion or politics or morals at all, for example, we will risk offending one another and many passers by.

Agreed. But I think the case of the bear suit involves the deliberate intent to offend. And that rarely leaves the offendee in any good state of mind for discussion.

#225 ::: Jeff Davis ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 04:03 PM:

Jim Macdonald @ 217: In much of the world, television is explicitly controlled by the government. Persons in those parts of the world may interpret something on US television as the explicit position of the US government, and will conflate that position with other actions of the US government.

It may be an understandable mistake, but it is still a mistake.

If you are simply trying to illustrate what this situation looks like to the people having bombs dropped on them by Western countries, point taken. If you are reiterating that it's wrong for the powerful to mock the powerless, especially while other parts of the same power structure are bombing the shit out of the powerless, I for one agree with you. Beyond that, I'm not certain what you're getting at. Are you saying South Park is complicit in the slaughter of Muslims by US forces in the Mideast?

Jim Macdonald @ 220: What makes you think you have the vaguest idea about how I "feel"? I'm trying to explain something here. Listen up. Pay attention. You might learn something.

Perhaps you could be more clear about the point you are trying to make, rather than being short with someone who was trying to engage you in good faith.

#226 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 04:23 PM:

I think Teresa has gotten discouraged by this thread. Not that there haven't been some really insightful things posted here -- I was just now reading Lizzy's #197 followed immediately by Bruce Cohen's #198, and reflecting on how lucky we are to have such smart commenters -- but for whatever reason, people have generally been more interested in arguing about Islam, South Park, and so forth than in engaging with the somewhat nuanced questions of logic and ostensibility in storytelling that Teresa was trying to get at in her original post, and which she tried to return to in her comment #122, specifically her responses to heresiarch.

Maybe it was unreasonable of her to expect that she could discuss this by citing an example involving South Park and images of Muhammad, and not have the thread immediately become an argument over the rights and wrongs of that particular news story*, rather than a conversation about "the relationship between representation and identification, thing and how we think about thing." If so, this is not unusual; we're all sometimes unrealistic in our imaginations of how people will respond to us. I do know, though, that Teresa is currently feeling the kind of dismay we all feel when we discover that the thing we thought was shiny and interesting is actually totally boring to everyone else at the party. Never mind I'll just be over here.

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* With, even better, tasty digressions about the perfidy of all religion.

#227 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 04:25 PM:

Touching briefly on the original point of the post: the Shrödingeresque bear costume feels, in some weird way I can't quite shape up, like something that has fascinated me about ancient Roman law for years.

You have this slave, right? And he's a thing, under the law, for you to dispose of as you wish. But then he buys his freedom, or you give it to him, and suddenly, by the power of words alone, your thing has turned into a genuine person*, able to vote and everything.

Words matter. The ideas that words convey into our head shape our world. The image of a bear, or a man, or a box, isn't anything until the words turn it into a costume, or a Prophet, or a cat which may or may not be alive when you open the lid.

-----
* It's true that liberti, freedmen, had a limited subset of the full range of Roman citizen rights (though their children did not).

#228 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 04:30 PM:

(And not to unduly prolong the whole South Park / US foreign policy / who's-more-powerful, who's-more-oppressed thrash...but watching some of the exchanges with Jim, I'm reminded that he has personal memories of being in exotic faraway places working for his uncle, and dealing with the effects of US media and pop culture on the way people in those places think about Americans. And I also recognize the signs of my friend Jim briefly running short on patience, which happens to us all sometimes.)

#229 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 05:05 PM:

Alex, Raven, abi: I started this morning to write a comment which would speak both reasonably and passionately about the corruption of religious institutions, clericalism, kenosis, the death of God, What Being A Christian Means To Me -- and after some hours of work, I gave up. I would like, very much, to explore the grave question of what The Raven calls "the emptiness at the heart." I would love to have this conversation sometime, somewhere, with fellow believers who will surely come to it from a different perspective and also with non-believers, as long as they can remain civil, and not hold me and my current co-religionists responsible for the Spanish Inquisition. (Cue the obligatory MP reference...) But I can't do it here and now and it's not, as Patrick points out, where Theresa hoped this thread would go. So bye-bye: have a lovely Sunday.

#230 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 05:07 PM:

Jim Macdonald @220

I wasn't trying to say I understand how you feel. I tried very hard to word my post in such a way as to not make any assumptions or statements about anyone's feelings. I was trying to ask questions because I do not understand. You don't have any obligation to respond to those questions, of course, but I asked them because I was genuinely trying to figure out what you were saying, rather than to imply you already felt a certain way. I can see now how it might have read as an implication, and I apologize.

I'm trying to pay attention. That's what lead me to ask questions. I saw the episode in question as an attempt to play with ideas about censorship and concepts - it is, after all, an episode that doesn't actually feature Muhammad in a bear suit. It's an episode that features Santa Claus in a bear suit, with the South Park kids trying to convince people he is Muhammad.

#231 ::: Jeff Davis ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 05:11 PM:

Reviewing the thread, Jim, I take your main point to be that while the South Park guys don't have blood on their hands, people who look at South Park and say "This is what America thinks about Islam" have a point, and moderate Americans should call out South Park for that reason. Yes?

To which I say: Sure, moderate Americans should definitely do that. South Park isn't going to listen to calls for decency and respect, and what they say is protected speech (and rightly so), but it would be good to give that side of US culture a higher profile.

The complexity of this particular incident is remarkable. When the story first emerged, it was framed not as "South Park was offensive to Muslims," but as "US networks censored South Park because it was offensive to Muslims." Which is ironic, since the point of the episode was apparently precisely that mainstream US culture takes pains to avoid giving this particular kind of offence to Muslims, in the blinkered and ham-fisted way that the corporate media does such things. And as it turns out, the show apparently wasn't unusually offensive (the character in the bear suit wasn't actually Muhammad, he wasn't made to do anything nearly as bad as what other revered religious figures have been made to do on the show, etc.). What we have on our hands is not a straightforward case of South Park simply being offensive jerks towards Islam for the sake of being offensive jerks, nor is it a case of the international voice of the US being simply and straightforwardly bigoted. Naturally, though, those nuances are lost by the time the story gets processed through the news cycle and ends up on Islamist message boards, whence come the talk about "death threats," which is itself overblown. What a muddle.

On preview:

Patrick @ 226: I do know, though, that Teresa is currently feeling the kind of dismay we all feel when we discover that the thing we thought was shiny and interesting is actually totally boring to everyone else at the party.

What Teresa wanted to talk about is shiny and interesting to me, but I've been as guilty as anyone else of leading this thread away from it. Sorry about that. :(

#232 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 05:24 PM:

I'm sorry, Teresa. I wish we could have had your conversation instead.

#233 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 05:26 PM:

heresiarch @232:
I wish we could have had your conversation instead.

We've still got 767 comments till the dread Thousand. All is not yet lost.

#235 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 05:43 PM:

(Also, add Jeff Davis's #231 to the list of comments in the 1.0 version of this thread that really impressed me.)

#236 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 06:23 PM:

Teresa, if you or Patrick would want to take a run at the representation part of this sans South Park, I'd love to see it and maybe join in.

#237 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 06:40 PM:

Alex @210:

Raven, I'm not angry; why would you think I'm angry?
You were calm when you posted comment 171? We just thought you were out of control. It makes a big difference to know that you were in full command of your faculties when you posted that ignorant ahistorical deliberately offensive heap of clichés that I was ashamed to let stand in my weblog. Which, by the way, helped drive the very thoughtful and insightful Elizabeth (Lizzy) Lynn out of the conversation; or did you notice that?

Don't tell me you were just expressing your personal opinions. If you were, you'd have expressed them in your own language, instead of that prepackaged cluster of abusive phrases I've seen elsewhere way too many times. In my experience, the odds are extremely poor that someone who refers to the transcendent divine as "the sky fairy" will go on to say anything interesting or well-informed on the subject.

Bye-bye, vowels.

Religion is the miner's canary of online subjects. When I try to explain how I arrived at my beliefs about civility and moderation, religion is my standard example of a subject that interesting and intelligent people (like Lizzy!) refuse to discuss in most online forums. Why? Because someone like you, Alex, will come along and take a crap in the punchbowl. Sometimes that person is a ranting fundamentalist, secular dittohead, holier-than-thou self-proclaimed radical, undergrad psych major with delusions of grandeur, trolling griefer, or other known type; but the effect is the same.

I made it perfectly clear that a pluralist society can only tolerate religious nonsense -
Wrong. A pluralist society tolerates an extremely broad range of beliefs, and primarily concerns itself with behavior. You are neither more nor less typical of a pluralist society than is the Archbishop of Chicago.

Come back when you've flossed the clichés out from between your teeth and are prepared to be civil.

#238 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 06:53 PM:

"Don't make me hungry. You wouldn't like me when I'm hungry."
- Bruce Banner in 2008's The Incredible Hulk

#239 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 07:04 PM:

TNH @237:

It's worth mentioning that Lizzy isn't the only person driven out, or underground, by this thread. My comment @208 wasn't my first draft, nor the thing I really wanted to write.

But I came to the conclusion that talking about my own experience with religion, what it means and why it matters to me, why I do it, was really too naked and too personal for the bearpit that this conversation had become. This stuff goes to the core of what I am and why. It's not a matter I'm in a hurry to get into in such an atmosphere, even though it's relevant information to the conversation.

I had left alex's comment up out of concern that I, as a theist, would then be decried for censoring an atheist. But you're right, as a number of our more civil atheists confirmed. This isn't about belief. It's about manners, and tolerance, and creating a safe place to speak whatever piece of the truth we each have a hold on.

As infovores, we care about that stuff.

#240 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 07:04 PM:

Also, DDB @162, good conversation is not solely a matter of other people coming up to your standards. As Salvor Hardin said, it's a poor atom blaster that doesn't point both ways.

#241 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 07:20 PM:

Raven, I hope that didn't alarm you. It really is a matter of manners rather than beliefs.

#242 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 07:37 PM:

Returning somewhat to the original post, the first reference my (not very educated in art or art history, alas) mind comes up with is the famous "This is not a pipe" painting. Because it's not: it's a picture of a pipe.

But then, "pipe" (please excuse my skipping the French, I'm afraid I'd mangle it) isn't a pipe either; it's a set of written symbols that we translate into a (usually) spoken word which, in a particular language, then is taken to represent a particular physical object. So while the painting is not the actual object, one could argue that it is a pipe; it evokes the concept "pipe" just as the word does, and writing down that caption is no less symbolic than the painting itself is. It's not the physical object, but one can quite honestly point to the picture and say, hey, that's a pipe.

So... The cartoon is not showing Mohammed in a bear suit, because that's not Mohammed, and it's not a bear suit, it's all animation on the screen. But that's only slightly more true than saying "Mohammed in a bear suit" isn't actually talking about Mohammed in a bear suit; it's little black lines and curves (on my monitor, anyway) on a white background, but it's still understood to convey that concept.*

So, who's in the bear suit? Saying "it's this person" is exactly as true in a conceptual, symbolic sense as showing a picture that reveals it's that person. In no case is there a physical person one can go tap on the shoulder, after all, so the saying is as true as the showing.

Compare, say, The Usual Suspects, where what we see on the screen isn't necessarily true--but even "true" is just a bunch of actors running around on a set, telling lies to the camera very well.


* Which always takes me back to the childhood conviction that writing was magical. It's like telepathy, after all; you can convey individual sensory input and thoughts from one person to another, across space (and time!), without the second person ever once actually witnessing what the first did.

#243 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 07:52 PM:

Fade Manley #242: Writing is magical -- it's one of the oldest forms of magic known to humanity. Consider, e.g, the uses of the Norse runes in the West, and the magical "banners" of Chinese tradition for the East. For that matter, ISTR hearing of inscribed curses and wards from the early Mesopotamian period....

#244 ::: Dos Ocho ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 08:02 PM:

I'm glad I got a chance to read Alex's misguided (IMO) rant before it was disemvoweled.

I'm the kind of person who tries to avoid offending people, whether it's on the topic of religion or anything else. But the idea that people need to be shielded from seeing religion or religious belief mocked... I'll admit that it bothers me, whether it's done here or at Comedy Central headquarters.

I mean, I'm an adult. I can take my beliefs being mocked, really. No one needs to shield me from it.

#245 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 08:03 PM:

David Harmon, that's a topic I know only tiny smidges about. I don't suppose there's a book out there focusing on that sort of thing, which you could recommend? I'd never even heard of the magical banners; of magical writings for the Norse and Egyptians, I know a very little.

#246 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 08:05 PM:

abi @ 239:

As a non-atheist/non-theist1 who believes strongly that the nature of spirituality doesn't have to depend on the nature of any god or gods, I agree with you. And I'm really rather disappointed that so much heat has been generated without much recognition that "religion" is a word that covers many kinds of social entities, and many kinds of personal mental and emotional states.

I'd like to have a different conversation here; if Teresa is willing, she could briefly restate the issue she wanted to discuss, minus the South Park red flag, and then we can have a bull session without the bull fight.

1. "An agnostic is someone who doesn't know if there's a god, and doesn't think he can know." This comes close to my position, but it's still off a little. The fable "The Final Now" that Gregory Benford recently published on tor.com contains in its metatext the closest to what I believe about the nature of the universe that I've read recently.

#247 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 08:22 PM:

THN @237:

Apparently, on Making Light, not thinking before you speak is OK, but thinking before you speak earns you disemvowelling. This is why Jim hasn't been disemvowelled for inflammatory comments like, "Do I really have to explain this to you?" or "I'm trying to explain something here. Listen up. Pay attention. You might learn something." Had he been thinking, he would have replied to my comment at 112 to either explain why I was wrong (which I totally might be!) or note that he had corrected his misunderstanding of the history. Noting that he didn't have time to do the research now, but was ever-so-slightly less certain about his beliefs would have been honest too.

Alex was disemvowelled not because he was rude, but because he was irrefutable.

#248 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 08:27 PM:

Alex was disemvowelled not because he was rude, but because he was irrefutable.

I don't agree, but I can think of a way to test it. Convey the same concepts without being rude. Then you'll find out two things: whether your comment is disemvoweled, and whether it's refuted.

#249 ::: Throwmearope ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 08:33 PM:

On Theresa's original topic, I find I have little to add. I read the voluminous (meaning volume after volume after volume) of Du Cote de Chez Swann (loosely translated as Swann's Way) twice in the original French. It's an examination of memory. Are any of our memories real, or simply embroidered by our minds to be shinier, nicer, etc. And I am still uncertain if the narrator even had a stepfather named Swann.

Abi @ 239

I find it very difficult to express my own theological beliefs and have feared that they might be too nebulous. I find it reassuring that others have similar difficulties.

I have been a theist, an atheist, an agnostic (my uncle wanted me to convert to agnosticism before his death) and am now once again a theist.

Very mutable, indeed, which is odd because I am frequently considered as stubborn as a pig.

#250 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 08:36 PM:

Even absent the particular context of South Park, this sort of topic can be unexpectedly contentious. After all, I recall some rather heated disputes over a guy in a bread suit, and over the exact nature of the suit and what (if anything) other than the suit might exist there hidden to our normal view.

Some of the more violent disputes of this sort occurred around the time of the Reformation, but some ugly exchanges along the same lines have manifested online just within the past year.

#251 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 08:43 PM:

Xopher, sadly I haven't the time to convince everyone on the Internet to give up on religion. It's a long process because it requires a great deal of drilling down to see what each individual person's mistake(s) are. I can recommend Baggini (for the usual arguments) or Yudkowski (for a uniquely single-minded approach).

#252 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 08:56 PM:

Deleted by JDM.

I only post this notice so that Will Shetterly won't have a hissy-fit.

#253 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 08:57 PM:

John Mark Ockerbloom @ 250... I recall some rather heated disputes over a guy in a bread suit

So heated that, when he crust the line, he was toast?

#254 ::: Jeff Davis ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 09:07 PM:

It turns out there is a Wikipedia article about depictions of Muhammad, which is enlightening. For instance, it turns out that such images are not explicitly banned in the Qur'an, and many Shi'a scholars have traditionally accepted respectful depictions. The article on anticonism in Islam is also informative.

Neither article really addresses the question of what constitutes a depiction of Muhammad. My impression, though, is that there's a range of opinions on the subject within Islam, currently and historically, so I'm guessing there is no one answer to any of the questions in the original post ... not that that should stop us from talking about them.

#255 ::: Jeff Davis ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 09:10 PM:

(Aniconism, even.)

#256 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 09:12 PM:

I'm always frustrated when certain problems are wholly attributable to religion. Intimidation isn't confined to the religious or the secular. Similar censorship have been fought over the threat of a lawsuit or a civil military invasion. There's an ongoing free speech issue in Britain involving their overly restrictive libel laws. Ironically, that was another point made by episode 200 - the premise was that celebrities were threatening to use a SLAPP lawsuit on South Park to destroy the town. It didn't matter that they had no case, the cost of lawyers would bankrupt South Park. The only thing that would convince them not to destroy South Park was if they got to meet Muhammad... (though it turns out they wanted to harness his immunity from mockery) and we're off to the races again. This episode also invented a violent terrorist threat from a secular source: Gingers. The point was anyone can make threats and incite responses that way, it's not a problem exclusive to religion.

Going back to the discussion of perception, Episode 201 raised further questions about images and representation (though somewhat inadvertently, through censorship). If you show no image and speak no name but clues outside the broadcast itself can lead you to believe that behind the censor bar lies the image of Muhammad, is that still an image of Muhammad? 201 contains no image of and no utterance of the name of Muhammad, and yet Comedy Central has decided that it cannot be rebroadcast or streamed online. Viewed without the context of episode 200 it would be impossible to tell what they're talking about and who is behind that censor bar.

I do wonder if South Park got away with the bear suit thing because they told their management it would be revealed to be Santa. At first I was confused as to whether or not Muhammad was supposed to be behind the censor bar in 201 at all - I missed a little bit of the beginning of the episode, and so I thought it was possible it would turn out to be someone else behind the censor bar, in the same way it was someone else in the bear suit. I'd be willing to bet that the censor bar over the image of Muhammad in 201 was part of the original concept (not something inserted by Comedy Central) because there is a gag based around it at the end of the episode.

So, say you utter the name of Muhammad. A week later you paint a picture of a censor bar. Is this automatically an image of Muhammad?

#257 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 09:25 PM:

Bah, similar censorship battles. I previewed that thing like four times.

#258 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 09:26 PM:

Fade Manley #245: I'm afraid it's been a long time since I studied these things (in particular, over 10 years since I left Neo-Paganism). I'd be astonished if there weren't any books on the topic by now, the hard part would be finding the scholarly works among the Neo-Pagan "revivalists". ;-)

For the Norse runes, it runs through the mythology, notably in the tale where Odin gains the "original" runes in an shamanic ritual, but many later myths refer to rune-carved staves and other inscriptions. For the Chinese business -- well, I gather it's still current practice there (at least among the superstitious or mystical), but we had a recent Particle on "Charms for medieval Chinese building contractors" which included quite a few examples.

It occurs to me that those two cultures may be more memorable to me because they represent pretty much the extremes of simple and complex orthography -- the straight-line cuts of the Norse runes (and they were typically cut into wood or stone), compared to the elaborately brushed forms of Chinese ideograms.

#259 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 10:09 PM:

Avram @218, about a zillion Apotheoses of Washington (and others) suggest you're right.

Meanwhile, Pericat is right about the buttons. Nicole is right about the basic sshlry of people go around saying "don't take yourself so seriously." Albatross is right that in a system in which no offense can get taken, nothing very meaningful can get said. Heresiarch is right as usual. Lizzy and Bruce at 197/198 are impressively right, and in tandem, too. Failing to notice Doyle at 172 and Yarrow at 193 would be downright wasteful, which can never be right. A lot of people have been and continue to be right in general; wherefore it was wrong of me to let myself get so dispirited about this thread.

I love Abi's comment @227:

Touching briefly on the original point of the post: the Schrödingeresque bear costume feels, in some weird way I can't quite shape up, like something that has fascinated me about ancient Roman law for years.

You have this slave, right? And he's a thing, under the law, for you to dispose of as you wish. But then he buys his freedom, or you give it to him, and suddenly, by the power of words alone, your thing has turned into a genuine person, able to vote and everything.

Words matter. The ideas that words convey into our head shape our world. The image of a bear, or a man, or a box, isn't anything until the words turn it into a costume, or a Prophet, or a cat which may or may not be alive when you open the lid.

Yes! The world is made of things and what we think about things. Successfully reassigning meaning can be genuinely transformative. (See also: Lincoln at Gettysburg.)

#260 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 10:10 PM:

novalis, you accused Our Hostess of disemvoweling Alex for reasons other than the reasons she gave. I think it's incumbent upon you to either defend that accusation or withdraw it; it is not incumbent upon me to go read your links and somehow figure out why you think so.

I suggested a way of testing your hypothesis. Apparently it won't stand up to an empirical challenge.

#261 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 10:18 PM:

Xopher, fair enough. I will, then, only hypothesize about the actual reason. I did provide evidence that the stated reason was not sufficient, since similarly rude comments (and ruder stances) have not been disemvowelled.

#262 ::: Dos Ocho ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 10:18 PM:

Xopher @ #248 Convey the same concepts without being rude.

I'm not sure it's possible to convey those concepts without being rude. Less rude, sure. But isn't there something inherently insulting about telling the vast majority of mankind that their beliefs are wrong, stupid and hurtful?

#263 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 10:30 PM:

Dos Ocho @244, it wasn't that religious beliefs were mocked; where would Making Light be without jokes about religion? What did it was the deliberate, pointless, unnecessary offensiveness; also, his assumption that everything having to do with religion is obviously a fraudulent and nonsensical imposition, and that everyone who has anything to do with it must be a fool, a charlatan, or both.

If someone who was religious had delivered a rant that toxic about agnostics and atheists, we wouldn't have stood for it either.

You can't have a good conversation if your only measure of a comment is whether it's survivable.

#264 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 10:33 PM:

262
isn't there something inherently insulting about telling the vast majority of mankind that their beliefs are wrong, stupid and hurtful?

Yes.

It's one of the things that bothers me about all the people who feel it's their duty to get everyone else to change their beliefs (whatever they are) to the One True Way (whatever that might be).

(I am including 'evangelical' atheists, because I don't see them as being different in this: they're proselytizing just as many churches do.)

#265 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 10:35 PM:

TNH @263,

his assumption that everything having to do with religion is obviously a fraudulent and nonsensical imposition, and that everyone who has anything to do with it must be a fool, a charlatan, or both.

Couldn't that be a belief rather than an assumption?

#266 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 10:38 PM:

Novalis @247, Alex was irrefutable because Alex didn't prove anything. In fact, he didn't make a case for anything. He also -- this is important -- didn't introduce any new thoughts. He was being nasty for fun, and it was damaging the conversation.

#267 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 10:48 PM:

And here I always thought not having to go around badgering people about metaphysics was one of the perks of atheism.

Bruce Cohen @ 246: "'An agnostic is someone who doesn't know if there's a god, and doesn't think he can know.'"

I come down on the agnostic end of atheism myself--I don't personally believe in (a supernatural) deity, but I don't kid myself that that belief is based on any kind of empirical evidence. Attempted refutations of theism run into the same problem as attempted proofs: believing in a diety is a matter of faith and subjective experience, and empiricism doesn't address that kind of knowledge.

Circling back up to novalis's #185: The fallacy here is a classic inductive error: Many X share quality Y. Therefore, Y is characteristic of all X. In the case of "religion" and "authoritarian, patriarchal, etc.", it's trivial to find cases of X free of Y, and cases of non_X exhibiting Y. So why assume that Y is a fundamental part of X's make-up, rather than an independently arising characteristic?

#268 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 10:50 PM:

One can be entirely right and irrefutable without making any case at all. As a simple example, take the claim E=mc^2. I don't know how to prove it. Nonetheless, I do not doubt it.

However, if adding nothing rudely were sufficient to get a comment disemvowelled, then I pointed you to a couple of (segments of) Jim's comments that you might also want to disemvowel.

#269 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 10:53 PM:

Novalis, #247: "Alex was disemvowelled not because he was rude, but because he was irrefutable."

Quite the contrary, Teresa has a long record of defending and appreciating outspoken atheists. What she doesn't appreciate is people who go out of their way to vandalize conversations by being abusive, bullying shitheads.

Teresa and I actually had a brief argument about whether to disemvowel Alex's #171. The point where I became convinced it was not only appropriate but necessary was when Teresa pointed out Alex's subsequent #210, in which he explains to Raven, "I'm not angry; why would you think I'm angry?" Sorry, but if Alex wasn't angry when he posted--

Islam is a load of stupid bollocks, as is every other piece of nonsense sky-fairy, do-as-you're-told, hierarchical, patriarchical primitivism that the majority of people seem to feel the need to subscribe to. For doing so, they are fools, even if many of them are misguided and abused [by their own 'masters'] fools. Over a billion people are loyal adherents, to a greater or lesser extent, of an institution, the Roman Catholic Church, which seems to have spent much of its time in the past half-century finding safe niches for kiddy-fiddlers.
--then I can only conclude that he was being deliberately malicious. Because as a non-angry, calm statement, this amounts to a claim that (for instance) all the Catholic Church has done in the last 50 years is defend child-molesters--so much for the life's work of tens of thousands of nuns, many of whom do heroic work despite a male hierarchy that's determined to get in their way; so much for Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers; so much for my 74-year-old father, whose work with Humane Borders in Arizona is motivated by his lifelong Catholic faith. In other words, Alex set out in deiberately to be an abusive shit. That being the case, he can fuck immediately and directly off.

I'm not an atheist, but many of the finest people I know are. Are you really sure you want to persist in your suggestion that Making Light disemvowels, or doesn't, based on commenters' theological views, well, good luck with that.

#270 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 10:57 PM:

Novalis, Ocho -- why do you assume that non-atheists have never heard those arguments, and/or have never thought about those issues?

Does it not occur to you that you're behaving like those born-agains who believe that if they can only get it across to the rest of us that Christ died for our sins, we'll immediately see the light and accept Jesus as our personal savior? Furthermore, have you noticed that the main effect they have is to convince previously neutral bystanders that Christians must all be sshls?

Srsly.

#271 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 11:04 PM:

Heresiarch @267, I think you're not reading it charitably. Alex is merely claiming that a certain class of religion is nonsense -- the class involving monotheism, sexism, authoritarianism, and some other elements which I find difficult to read without vowels. He's not saying that all religions have these characteristics -- merely that most people belong to religions which do. However, it is hard to believe that sexism is unrelated to religion for the case of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, given the content of the holy books.

#272 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 11:05 PM:

Novalis, #268: "However, if adding nothing rudely were sufficient to get a comment disemvowelled, then I pointed you to a couple of (segments of) Jim's comments that you might also want to disemvowel."

You're right! Teresa's failure to deal instantly and ruthlessly with her old friend and colleague Jim Macdonald getting impatient and short is PROOF POSITIVE that she's a giant hypocrite. How clever of you to notice. Since obviously Making Light is a perfectly-calibrated, scientifically-run Olympics of perfect moderation in all things. That's what it says right on our colophon! "Perfectly-calibrated, scientifically-run Olympics of perfect moderation in all things".

#273 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 11:07 PM:

As for who I do and don't disemvowel, the forum in which you're participating has been shaped, first, by my judgements and policies, and later by those of my co-bloggers, who are of very similar mind. I'm sorry if you disagree in this case. Your disagreement is noted, but the comments you mention are not going to be disemvowelled.

And yes, that could be taken to mean "I am Oz, the great and terrible, look upon my works and love me and despair." We'll both just have to live with that.

#274 ::: Dos Ocho ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 11:12 PM:

TNH @ #270: I may have given the wrong impression. I am, for the record, a born-again Christian. Methodist, specifically. So if I gave the impression that I was defending Alex's misguided rant on the basis of content, I apologize, because that is definitely not the case.

I guess I've just had so much Hitchens and Dawkins thrown at me over the years that I've sort of gotten used to hearing that argument, expressed more or less that way, and it didn't strike me as something that was beyond the bounds of discussion. But I concede I may be somewhat jaded in that regard, and I also concede that your desire to prevent abusive language from damaging the discussion is certainly reasonable and fair, and you are of course a much better judge of where that line falls on your site than I.

#275 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 11:13 PM:

Someone here is dragging an argument into "silly" territory, and I'm fairly sure it isn't me.

#276 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 11:13 PM:

"I am Oz, the great and terrible, look upon my works and love me and despair."

So that's what the -ymandias part meant...except Galadriel's in there too.

novalis, a word of advice: Do not touch the water.

#277 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 11:19 PM:

Ah, Xopher, who is following the actual discussion RATHER more closely than is probably healthy.

(PS: Those of us named NH? We really, really like our Xopher.)

#278 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 11:21 PM:

Raise your hand if you'd like to get back, after this second derailment, to the semiotic conversation about reference and representation.

*raises hand*

If a symbol is a link between a signifier and a signified, then it's easy to see a problem: there's quite a long chain here. The guy in a bear suit is -d to the -r of "patterns of color on a screen," but it's -r to the -d of Mohammad (pbuh)(or whoever) is supposed to be in that bear suit.

Worse, it's not clear, at least to me, that Mohammad (pbuh) is the ultimate -d at the top of that chain. Might he represent something at an even deeper level?

Possibly relevant observation: Sufis say that Mohammad (pbuh) was "just a man" in the same way that a ruby is "just a stone."

#279 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 11:23 PM:

Why thank you, Patrick! I'll try not to follow it too closely...I might fall into the water!

#280 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 11:23 PM:

Wait, wait, we're doing Richard Dawkins drag and nobody told me?

Pardon me. I'm being wicked. OK, then. Ahem.

David Harmon @ 258: I'd be astonished if there weren't any books on the topic by now, the hard part would be finding the scholarly works among the Neo-Pagan "revivalists". ;-)

I've got a friend working on a book about doing proper research on neo-pagan topics. Rigor is needed.

Also, re the runes, those are straight line cuts that do not cross at right angles. Wood grain, y'know. 'S a problem with right angle cuts. Hence the diagonals. That's what I was told, anyhow.

#281 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 11:32 PM:

THN @270,

Sure, I considered that people might have heard all of the arguments presented in the links I mentioned. I guess it would be surprising to find a religious person who had read through the archives (and bonus fanfic) of Less Wrong, but I'm sure there are some. And I would expect that, even after reading all of that, some people would remain unconvinced. There's no argument that will convince all possible people, and we know of very few arguments that will convince all actual humans. However, that doesn't mean that one who remains unconvinced after hearing all of the (convincing) evidence and arguments, could necessarily still be correct about the actual state of the world.

As for the question of whether assertively expressing beliefs that God doesn't exist, does or does not turn people off, that's concern trolling.

#282 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 11:33 PM:

I'm quite interested in the matter of the runes, when not having terrifying flashbacks to my Literary Theory class in college. (If I never, ever read anything written by Saussure again, it will still be too soon.) For some reason, all the depictions I've seen of Norse runes had them carved into stone, not wood, so I'd never thought of the wood-grain angle. Is this because stone hits more of a "magical" note to those wishing to do Cool Runic Graphics, or is it more that carved stone is more likely to last than carved wood, so we have more of the former than the latter?

#283 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 11:38 PM:

Novalis@261: First, rudeness is to some fairly large extent subjective (as well as relative; culturally and in many other ways); the fact that you find those comments as rude or ruder doesn't mean that all other people must, and in particular doesn't mean that TNH will. Second, I'm reasonably sure that, in the end, comments get disemvoweled because they are damaging the conversation (or expected to do so), in the opinion of the moderators. By this hypothesis, rudeness is bad as far as it damages the conversation. Thus, no really clear "rudeness line" can necessarily be inferred (and see also #1).

Finally, getting into rules-lawyering games is clearly a losing moderatorial position, and one I do not notice the moderators here getting into at all often.

#284 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 11:39 PM:

282
Fade, I'd think it's because stone tends to last longer when it's out in the weather than wood does. (Depending on kind of wood, kind of stone, and the climate, of course.)

#285 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2010, 11:51 PM:

I must admit that my basic feelings about religion sound about like what the disemvoweled rant is described as (I haven't gone to the trouble to reconstruct it, though). I largely avoid expressing them, at least in anything like those terms, out of tactical sense, and a bit of weariness. Many religious people have internalized it at a very basic level, so any attempt to discuss it seriously is challenging the foundations of their universe. This can end well -- but it can't end well without lots of time, effort, commitment, luck, and a fair amount of empathy. And it rarely works well with lots of kibitzers "helping".

#286 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 12:09 AM:

Novalis, think it possible that your audience includes theists who know more about atheism than you do. I'm just sayin'.

Fade Manley @282, to shamelessly rip off one of Tom Whitmore's jokes, those guys are Sassure of themselves when all they know is sweet Foucault.

My guess is that our versions are based more on runes carved into metal and stone because they're mostly what's survived. It's related to the potsherd problem.

DDB @283: Just so. Notice we've never published a set of rules.

Going back to Jeff Davis @254:

It turns out there is a Wikipedia article about depictions of Muhammad, which is enlightening. For instance, it turns out that such images are not explicitly banned in the Qur'an, and many Shi'a scholars have traditionally accepted respectful depictions. The article on anticonism in Islam is also informative.
So it is. I'd mostly been aware that Turkish and Persian art allowed depictions of living things because, well, there they were.
Neither article really addresses the question of what constitutes a depiction of Muhammad. My impression, though, is that there's a range of opinions on the subject within Islam, currently and historically, so I'm guessing there is no one answer to any of the questions in the original post ... not that that should stop us from talking about them.
It looks to me like you're right. My guess is that the preemptive assumption of disrespect had more effect than the fear of representation.

#287 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 12:10 AM:

#281 Novalis: I admit that it's petty of me, but I would be a lot more receptive to your arguments if you would stop repeatedly addressing TNH as "THN." Hard to avoid suspecting that you really don't give a shit. Sorry about that.

All things considered, I'm pretty sure you don't like us. Definitely unclear as to why we should like you back, or really, why you're hanging around here at all.

#288 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 12:13 AM:

It could be a temporary thing.

#289 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 12:17 AM:

Dos Ocho @274, thank you for clearing that up. I acknowledge that I really miscalled that one.

Most of the internet has low standards of behavior during discussions of religion. We try not to do that because it keeps so many interesting things from getting said.

#290 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 12:28 AM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @ 286: It's related to the potsherd problem.

I suspect that this means I'm about to add an entire new category of books to my to-read list, and god knows it's a long list already, but... what's the potsherd problem?

(One of the things I love about Making Light is that conversations tend to reveal to me areas of knowledge where I not only don't know anything, I didn't even know that I didn't know anything about it, or that it was there to not know things about.)

#291 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 12:30 AM:

Fade, there are examples in stone, wood, metal, and bone, at least that I'm aware of.

A quick google yields these goodies to go check out:

The Bryggen inscriptions: some 670 medieval runic inscriptions on wood (mostly pine) and bone. Bergen, Norway. There's also runic work on wood in Greenland, and other places.

The Golden Horns of Gallehus were, as their name implies, metal. I saw the replicas of these at the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen. For more metal, see the Nordendorf fibula and so on.

Björketorp Runestone (DR 360 U) in Blekinge, Sweden, is on stone. Seems to be transitional between elder and younger futharks.

Einang stone (Einangsteinen): runestone located near Fagernes, Norway. 4th century, and still where they left it, which is not all that common for really old runestones.

I cannot resist reporting this one: There's an example in Orkney of a rune carving found when a church was demolished. Reportedly it says "the church is not good." Speaking of church rune inscriptions, there's a wooden runic incription at the stavekirk in Borgund, Norway, which goes on about the Norns. Anyhow, the one about the church not being good is from here, which also has a link to a whole pile of runic inscriptions in Maeshow, many of which are on the order of "Ingigerth is the most beautiful of all women," "Tholfir Kolbeinsson carved these runes high up," "Benedikt made this cross," and so forth. Those are on stone. Buncha Viking grafitti from 1153, they say. (Mind, I'm not sure I'm 100% with them on their interpretations. I mean, "The message had to be cut quickly with a blade or axehead - a method that was not conducive to overly-complicated designs"? Hm. Maaaybe. And maybe not. I doubt a lot of the fancier runestones were hurried work.)

I'm thinking particularly of the Ingvar Runestones, in honor of Ingvar the Far-Travelled. Check that story out; it was quite the expedition. Those are stone too, and quite elaborate. I doubt they were "cut in haste." I highly recommend a look at these.

If stones particularly are of interest, the folks at Uppsala have been cataloging runestone inscription. Their project is called Rundata and has more than 6500 inscriptions in it so far, apparently.

(I must further report that I got the giggles when looking at one page, which bore the legend, "The Eggja Stone: Blood Sacrifice, or Norway's First Report of a Capsized Boat?"

Clever kennings cut to catch wit,
Words on wood that waited long years,
Now beheld, held up, in new light
Pour their tale out, tipped by new hands,
Swift and heedless -- spilled is the sense!
Words break, and wasted is the wit.)

Anyhow, have fun with those, and if I find better links I shall bring you some, OK?

#292 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 12:32 AM:

T! Bryggen inscriptions! SIX HUNDRED nifty rune carvings on wood! (I hadn't heard about them until recently, but you know I often live in a jar.) Cool, huh?

#293 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 12:35 AM:

novalis @ 271: "I think you're not reading it charitably. Alex is merely claiming that a certain class of religion is nonsense"

Your reading is entirely unsupported by the words alex wrote. Did you not notice the part where he specifically names all of Islam and the entire Roman Catholic church as falling under his critique? You're putting a far finer brush in his hand than the one he actually held.

#294 ::: AndrDrew ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 12:36 AM:

Avram @ 169
Thank you, that was exactly what I meant. I'm thinking it could be a useful touch-point for the whole "what is a depiction" argument.

...and Wow. that was quite a bit ago. Oh lordie I missed a bunch here. Seems Interesting stuff, too - I'd better get reading!

#295 ::: Dos Ocho ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 12:40 AM:

TNH @ #289: I should add that I do appreciate that it takes a lot of work and tough decisions to keep the discussion at that higher level, whether or not I agree with a particular moderation decision. That such volatile topics are discussed intelligently and civilly here was what led me to dip my virtual toe in here in the first place.

So, thanks.

#296 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 01:04 AM:

tnh, #241: "Raven, I hope that didn't alarm you. It really is a matter of manners rather than beliefs."

Nah, nah. I showed what I thought was one of my personal bits of anti-shiny, and the relation to the topic at hand wasn't obvious. My apologies.

#297 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 01:09 AM:

Xopher @ 278:

Unless I've wandered off into left field somehow, ISTM that we have some other puzzles here in addition to the semiotic ones of identifying the signifier and the signified.

For one, there's what I think is an epistemological question of how we know that the bear suit is a depiction of anything more than a bear suit — after all, we only identify it with some religious leader or other because someone who's almost certainly not a reliable narrator tells us to. Are we to automatically believe someone who's on record as wanting to offend as many people as possible?

I'm fairly sure I could dredge up some sort of question about qualia while I'm at it, but I don't want to.

#298 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 01:18 AM:

The container is often named as the thing that it contains.

When we speak of a research library like, oh, for example, the humanities research library of the NYC public library system those of us who use this institution usually have an interior picture of that lion guarded building on 42nd and 5th Avenue (re-named, yet again, this time as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building). If you remove the contents from this ediface and its below ground facilities though, it is no longer a library.

But -- a building that is a House of God, a temple, a holy place, how do you remove the contents of that building and make it something else, or at least not a House of God. You must take specific action, work the rituals of de-consecration.

The bear suit is Muhammad when the content of Muhammad is claimed to be within, even if the content is never seen. It is Muhammad because it is identified with Muhammad because it is said that this suit contains Muhammad.

However the bear suit is no longer Muhammad if the content is revealed to be not-Muhammad, or if Muhammand is removed from the suit. In other words, like a removed library, the container of the library is no longer identified with the contained.

Love, C.

#299 ::: Bacchus ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 02:16 AM:

I share a little bit of the discouragement Patrick was talking about in #226. As I tried to indicate in my #41, what fascinates me about the "Mohammad in a bear suit" example is that it's just one of many examples of the places this very serious "ostensibility in storytelling" issue crops up. (Love that useful phrase!) Ascribing too much weight to ostensibility -- and when a death threat (or prison) is on the line, that's too much weight IMO -- strikes me as both an interesting and a serious philosphical error.

As an adult blogger I obviously have a professional interest. Can there be an ostensible age to the fictional character portrayed in a manga cartoon? Can I be expected to know that ostensible age (with precision: over 18, or under? Get it wrong, risk jail) and make publishing decisions based on that knowledge? The law says I can. That strikes me as arrant nonsense; cartoon characters don't have birthdays, ostensible or otherwise. How could you draw one to signify s/he was unequivocally 19, or 17? Treating them as if they were people with knowable ages strikes me as being deeply and madly bizarre -- at least as bizarre as taking umbrage at a cartoon of a person in a bear suit.

The thing is, there's not actually anything in the bear suit, it's not actually a bear suit with an inside, it's just a drawing. Punishing someone because they lie in silly fashion and aver that Mohammad is in there just seems mad. But punishing someone for possessing an underage sex cartoon seems just as mad -- it's not a person, there's no age to be "under", and we can't even imagine a way to draw the cartoon that would resolve the ambiguity.

Time to get down off my hobbyhorse, especially as it didn't catch anybody's interest the first time I mentioned it. But I will confess to an additional measure of interest at seeing in Teresa's #122 that she's grappled with a very similar problem while editing naughty books. I've been there; several times I've wanted to post excerpts from Victorian erotica on my blog, but been put off by the (apparently default) assignment of very low ages (by modern standards) to the protagonists. I've found myself Bowdlerizing the text to remove these age assignments. By excerpting carefully and removing a few adjectives like "hairless" or "tiny", a perfectly unobjectionable result can be obtained. My goal is not so much legality as making the prose palatable to modern readers, but it's impossible to go through this process without having to focus intensely on what the signifiers of age in prose actually are, and what they mean when the characters one is signifying about don't actually have an existence in reality with respect to which a signified age could be meaningful in any sense but an aesthetic one.

Sheesh, I babble. I'll stop now.

#300 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 03:28 AM:

Novalis @247: Alex was disemvowelled not because he was rude, but because he was irrefutable.

Oh, come on now. "You cannot bear the awesome power of my truth-telling" is one of the classic mating calls of the overbearing Internet boor. And where do you come from that "stupid bollocks" isn't rude?

Also, @281, you quite frankly have a lot of brass to come in here, defending a rude poster, and then accuse the local moderators of concern trolling.

#301 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 04:26 AM:

Novalis reminds me of those well-scrubbed people who turn up at my door from time to time, loaded down with books, pamphlets and, above all, The One and Only Worldview I Will Ever Need. Every attempt to explain that I am not in the market for what they are selling is gently turned back toward the sales pitch.

And underneath all the earnestness is the growing feeling that I am not a real human being to them. I'm just there to make up the numbers in the conversion effort. It shows in little things, like how their refutations are pre-packaged and memorized, or how they may get my name subtly but consistently wrong. But most of all, it shows in the persistent inability to listen as well as talk, to share control of the conversation.

I'm sure that many of these people are very good sorts in other contexts. I'm sure that I'd enjoy other conversations with them very much. But in this topic, I do tend to shut the door in their faces.

That's not concern trolling. That's my own reaction as one of those human being who is allegedly the target of this particular line of persuasion, plus my own judgement as a moderator of this blog. (Which observation, I see, Avram has just made.)

Also, specifically, from comment 281:

I guess it would be surprising to find a religious person who had read through the archives (and bonus fanfic) of Less Wrong, but I'm sure there are some.

I am irresistibly reminded of the popular traditions around The Interior Castle. Or, possibly, Chesterton's comment on Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.

#302 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 04:44 AM:

Constance @298:

The container is often named as the thing that it contains.

This glances off of the rhetorical techniques of metonymy and synecdoche in many interesting ways.

#303 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 05:36 AM:

James Thurber wrote a very funny essay (of course he did) on The Container For The Thing Contained and The Thing Contained For The Container. Which means that whenever I see either phrase, I have a mental flash to one of his trademark illustrations of a women bashing a man over the head with a bottle of milk.

#304 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 06:34 AM:

#299 Bacchus How could you draw one to signify s/he was unequivocally 19, or 17?

I recall an anime (involving a robot maid) with the title "I Swear To God She's Eighteen."

#305 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 07:32 AM:

elise #291: Thank you! Also, it hadn't occurred to me that right angles in particular were an issue, but one of those Neo-Pagan revivalists did offer a six-sided "snowflake rune" (hexagon with radial lines, that is all 60° angles) as representing all the strokes. I have no idea if that was something which the original Norsemen would have considered significant. (Fade: For more examples of how they were used, look at the later Sagas, where such inscriptions are occasionally used for curses, protection, or mockery.)

About the "potsherd problem", I Got lucky with Google to find an illustrative (possibly the original) example. That's page 92-93 of An archaeological evolution. by Stanley A. South. (The book itself looks pretty interesting!)

#306 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 07:44 AM:

Teresa, Abi, et al: Have you looked at Novalis' site? While the design is certainly interesting, I find the comment which he highlights on his front page to be ominously significant.

Constance #298, indeed, religion, and magic, are mostly about signifier and symbol. The numinous experience is beyond word or image, yet word and image are major gateways therein. And those who wish to control people's access to the numinous, invariably seek to control the gateways to it....

#307 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 08:07 AM:

I'm an atheist, but I'd be horrified if people thought I'm anything like Novalis.

#308 ::: Bacchus ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 09:24 AM:

Jim Macdonald #304: I recall an anime (involving a robot maid) with the title "I Swear To God She's Eighteen."

Heh, and of course it's possible to establish these things in the narrative of an ongoing work, as well. Which means (in theory I guess, not aware of this having happened) that you could be prosecuted for possessing sexually explicit anime featuring characters who look like octogenarians but who had been established (in the first book that you never saw or possessed) as actually being seven-year-olds with severe glandular disorders. Or who were so established by the dialog boxes in your book, printed in a language you can't read and don't understand.

It's ostensibility again. Since the characters have no actual being and thus no actual age, the law apparently operates on their ostensible age; but it's far from clear what the signifiers of ostensibility are supposed to be. Certainly the Congress never considered that problem when passing the law. That means it's down to the jury; and while juries are actually pretty good in their role as finders of fact, they aren't known for finesse when grappling with philosophical issues, much less when it's in aid of yucky foreign filth.

#309 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 09:25 AM:

I have no idea if that was something which the original Norsemen would have considered significant.

There's a known type of Norse amulet, consisting of three vertical strokes connected by some number of diagonal lines, in which you can trace out all the runes. So yeah. :) Similar idea, different execution.

#310 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 09:39 AM:

heresiarch@293: Well, wasn't it all the Abrahamic religions he was complaining about? That includes all the big religions in the west, but there are a number of non-Abrahamic religions still important elsewhere on the globe. Then there's the surge in new or revived (or "revived") forms of spirituality / religion. So it's a big chunk, but it's NOT all religion.

Then again it could just be that he rails most explicitly against what he has the most experience with. In principal I hold all religions equal, but in practice I'm more annoyed by some than others, due to which one's idiot behaviors are most visible from where I sit. (Note: that "idiot behaviors" is meant to separate out actual idiot behaviors, not to imply that all behaviors of any of them are idiotic.)

#311 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 09:41 AM:

In #84 --E writes:

The point is, a religious position, like a political position, is a choice. It can seem like not a choice due to the powerful forces of culture and training, but people can and do change religious or political beliefs with great frequency.

Just because people's beliefs or politics change does not mean they are being chosen.

My own beliefs have changed based on my experience, but I did not choose my new beliefs. I can't even imagine being able to choose my beliefs.

The only sense in which I can make sense of the idea is to suppose that someone who realizes they no longer believe tenet X, Y or Z of religion A may consider the things which they do believe, match them to religion B and say that they have "chosen" a new religion.

In this reading, choosing (say) Roman Catholicism means analyzing what I believe and choosing to call myself a Roman Catholic because my beliefs agree with the tenets of RCism (or perhaps more with RCism than the next nearest flavour of Christianity).

#312 ::: Matt ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 09:52 AM:

Bacchusin #308:

Or a world like Haruhi Suzamia where the world was created fully formed three years ago, but where the apparent adults are, accordingly, technically only three years old.

#313 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 10:15 AM:

Matt@312: Last-Tuesdayist Manga?

#314 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 10:23 AM:

#308 Bacchus ...but it's far from clear what the signifiers of ostensibility are supposed to be.

I recall Judith Reisman's campaign to identify underage females in Playboy. Including cartoons such as "Little Annie Fanny," who ... certainly appeared to resemble an adult to me.

I also recall the problems we had trying to identify "child warriors" in some countries where birth records are informal to unavailable to non-existent. Particularly among groups where the males don't grow a lot of facial hair no matter what their age, and who tend to be on the shorter side.

#315 ::: Matt ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 10:45 AM:

ddb@313

Exactly...I was gonna say that but being a Monday morning I couldn't remember what day lastTuesdayism was, or the more formal name.

And, because in the series it's only implied that the world was recreated recently, in a trial on porn based on that universe, you'd not only have to settle the philisophical issue of whether or not it was indeed child pornogrophy, you'd have to wade through all fan-theories as to whether or not they are actually virtual three-year olds.

(Also, there's an event where a given two week period is repeated over 10,000 times, so you'd have to determine whether the porn took place before or after this event, and if it were after, would porn of characters appearing to be under 18 be legal, because they are at this point hundreds of years old)

Silly laws produce silly debates, don't they...

#316 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 11:08 AM:

Matt@315: Yep, very silly. And I suspect "ostensible" is their way to avoid "appears", which they thought would be even more problematic. I wonder if the Manga is deliberately poking a pointed stick into that?

#317 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 11:09 AM:

"The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."

"From 1995 to 2005, beginning with the 104th Congress, the proposed amendment was approved biennially by the two-thirds majority necessary in the U.S. House of Representatives, but it consistently failed to achieve the same constitutionally-required super-majority vote in the U.S. Senate"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_Desecration_Amendment

i trust that you can see the fun to be had here.

and, by the way, my feelings about the american flag are extremely warm (not to say ardent); i'm a real live nephew of my uncle sam.

#318 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 11:12 AM:

kid bitzer @317:
i trust that you can see the fun to be had here.

Well, Scalzi certainly has.

#319 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 11:14 AM:

Carrie S. #309: And that's a good example of why I don't trust Neo-Pagan scholarship... the author in question was writing a book about ostensibly "traditional" runic magic, and if he'd done much more research than me, he'd have known about that amulet -- but instead, he presented this "snowflake rune", presumably because it was prettier to modern eyes.

BTW, do you have any pointers to an image of that?

#320 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 11:19 AM:

Niall@311: I'm sure a number of scientists examined the results of the Michelson–Morley experiment and stopped believing in the luminiferous ether. I'm pretty sure it was a conscious choice.

That and similar examples strongly suggest, to me, that for some people, beliefs about the basic structure of the universe are in some sense changeable by choice. On the other hand, I don't know that they could have made the switch in the absence of the evidence. And there's the question of how they adopted the belief in the first place -- since there wasn't then evidence to distinguish it from the alternative theories. And it's entirely possible that some beliefs about how the universe works are held in an entirely different way from others, and take entirely different mechanisms to change. This may relate to the chestnut that you can't be argued out of a belief you weren't argued into.

I recall occasions when I decided to adopt a set of beliefs for future action, and had some success doing so. But this consciously included "act as if" as part of the approach, too.

It's certainly a complicated area, and I suspect that most people (certainly me) aren't consciously aware of everything going on in that part of their heads.

#321 ::: Matt ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 11:25 AM:

ddb@316

Actually, the series itself is sweetness and light of the sort where a kiss between the main charactes is a big deal.

I was speculating on fan-created porn, which given the series popularity, I guaruntee exists.

#322 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 11:32 AM:

Way upthread, I agreed with some of the comments of this discussion's current Great Satan, in part for reasons ddb suggested in #310: "In principal I hold all religions equal, but in practice I'm more annoyed by some than others."

A burst of exasperation doesn't necessarily equal hatred, even if intemperately expressed. And what bothers me most about many of the big religions is one aspect: "Thou shalt not" backed by threats of murder. (Threats of hell don't concern me.)

Last year in my state, a man who believed his daughter was too irreligious ran her over with a car and killed her. I'll not say what religion, since something similar has probably happened with all the Shalt Nots. But this kind of thing -- aberrant, not the true face of any religion, but sometimes supported by the more bureaucratic elements as well as the most radical ones -- appalls me.

Yes, it's just some maniac's excuse. All the same, it's a pity that the ancient patriarchs who invented Shalt Not left it there for him to grab hold of, and religions haven't quite managed to overcome that sickness.

In this thread's discussions, the bashing of other posters shows a more minor (non-lethal) form of indignation, yet it upset me as well. OK, the Disemvoweled One did it too, but -- from my own point of view -- he did it at least in part due to horror of that sickness. For all the interesting concern with being, non-being, and perception that Theresa meant to raise, the death threat that accompanies one particular Shalt Not lurks at the heart of the episode that spawned this thread.

To all: please forgive any offenses I've committed here.

#323 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 11:48 AM:

Abi:

Chesterton's comment on Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.

Do you mean the one from "Wall Street and Christian Science" which he did in 1930? Now, for an atmosphere so atmospheric as that the obvious religion was Christian Science, with its general suggestion of men creating their own atmosphere. To say that there was no such thing as a sick headache was part of the same mentality as saying that there would be no such thing as a slump; it was of the very essence of that mythology and genealogy that the wish was father to the thought. Interesting, but I'm more of a Twain fan.

#324 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 11:55 AM:

Faren @322:
A burst of exasperation doesn't necessarily equal hatred, even if intemperately expressed.

I'm not really concerned with whom or what alex hates, and I don't think Teresa does either. What concerns us is that his burst of nastiness* damaged the conversation. It hurt people needlessly, drove gentler participants out of the conversation, inflicted collateral damage on the innocent.

We say this stuff over and over again. It's not what you say. It's how you say it. Trust us on this. People can advocate any number of things that no one on the front page agrees with, and if it leads to good conversation, we'll let it run.

And he's not a Great Satan; don't make this a war in heaven. He was an ill-mannered commenter who turned out not to even have temper to blame for his excesses. Hardly Lucifer. Simply insufficiently thoughtful, insufficiently caring of his fellow human beings.

To all: please forgive any offenses I've committed here.

Nothing to forgive, in my opinion. What you said, you said in a way I'm fine with in the conversation.

----
* He sneered at and belittled things that he knew people in the conversation cared about. He called people in the conversation fools. None of this was even reasoned, evidential discourse with proper respect for the other participants in the discussion.

#325 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 12:01 PM:

Faren@322: I think there's a basic problem with religion in general. This does depend somewhat on how one defines religion, and I don't have a definition that's not trivially rules-lawyerable (and I'm not trying to present a definition here; I'm going to continue to leave it undefined as it has been for the previous parts of this discussion).

Since a big part of the purpose of religions seems to be to explain things in the universe which are not on a human scale, religions have to deal a lot with things not at human scale. The problem is, this makes it very easy, perhaps inevitable, to raise the stakes to the point where any human-scale consideration is irrelevant.

The classic fire-and-brimstone preacher is perhaps the archetype of this (eternal hell certainly seems to me to be something so far transcending human scale that it makes any local human-scale issues irrelevant, if taken seriously).

I tend towards thinking it's inevitable that some of the humans working with the claims of any religion I know anything about will quickly reach these bad places. It may not actually be inevitable; but it's certainly quite common, as numerous examples easily findable in the news reports demonstrate.

I'm well aware that numerous people are motivated by their religion to do things that they and I agree are good, as well.

#326 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 12:02 PM:

Bruce @323:
Chesterton's comment on Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures

No; it's one I found (I think) in a book that's now in California. Unless it wasn't Chesterton; I'd have expected it to be Twain but can't find the quote in a search of the book.

The writer says that he has heard, and believes, that anyone who reads Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures through the crisis of an illness will survive it. This is not due to the spiritual properties of the book, as is claimed, but because anyone who can read it has such an adamantine constitution that no illness can stand against it.

Or words to that effect.

#327 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 12:06 PM:

elise @ 291, Thank you for all of that! I have added "some really good book on runes" to the aforementioned endless list of books I should really get around to reading one of these days. Reading scholarly debates about the meaning of ancient graffiti sounds like fun.

...though of course, reading further in the conversation, I realize that I'm not going to have any good way of distinguishing "carefully researched scholarly work on runes" from "enthusiastic rambling of those who think runes are Really Nifty". Or at least not easily so.

(The problem with learning about whole categories of things where I Didn't Even Know That I Didn't Know That, is that it comes with a hefty side helping of And Now I Don't Know How To Determine What About That Is True And What's Nonsense.)

#328 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 12:21 PM:

For those who don't know who Judith Reisman is, here she is.

#329 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 12:21 PM:

abi @ 326: That would be from his article, "Christian Science", which is included in the collection The Uses of Diversity: A Book of Essays. Here's the quote:

"The idea of reading any book 'through the crisis of an illness' is rather alarming. But I incline to agree that anyone who could read Science and Health through the crisis of an illness must be made of an adamant which no malady could dissolve."

#330 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 12:26 PM:

Faren #322:

A moral code or moral framework, to be worth much, must forbid some things. Almost inevitably, this involves judgments about the morality of other peoples' actions--a torturer working at a concentration camp is morally quite different from a doctor working in a refugee camp. It's impossible for me to see things the way I do without judging those people differently.

Given such a moral code, believed by a large number of people, I think having some fraction willing to enforce it in various ways is almost inevitable. For example, I think John Yoo is a war criminal. I wouldn't threaten or carry out any kind of violence toward him, but if introduced to him personally, I suppose I'd rudely let him know my opinion of him, and refuse to associate with him beyond that. That's a low-impact way to enforce/apply my moral code. But a small fringe of people, from animal rights activists to anti-abortion activists, think the right way to deal with the worst transgressors of their moral code is with violence.

This is related to a sense of *outrage*, or something genuinely evil being done that almost demands a response. Plenty of people doing admirable things have been motivated by this sense of outrage that requires a response. Abolitionists, the anti-torture folks like Amnesty International, people campaigning against racism and sexism and gay bashing, etc.

When you have a big enough level of outrage, spread across enough people, I think a willingness to threaten or carry out violence is almost inevitable. That's true even when the underlying ideas behind the outrage are opposed to violence--there's precious little support for violent enforcement of the rules to be found in the New Testament, for example, but that didn't save George Tiller's life. The alleged motive for the Oklahoma City bombing was revenge against the US government for murdering the innocent people in the Waco compound; their revenge involved murdering a whole bunch of innocent people, including kids in the daycare.

I don't know how you get away from the "thou shalt nots" without abandoning the concept of a moral framework with which to judge the actions of your fellow humans. And given that, it's hard to avoid having some people take that as justification for violence, especially since there are some people out there who really want an excuse for some violence.

#331 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 12:47 PM:

albatross@330: There are, of course, plenty of ways to justify violence out of the Old Testament (think "bears", for example). Possibly it was a mistake to keep that a formal part of the sacred literature, if they really wanted to lose all that baggage.

If one viewed the bad behavior of other humans as human-scale error, rather than as an offense against an almighty and definitionally-perfect deity, perhaps it would be easier to avoid excess?

I'm not absolutely sure I can blame it on the "moral code", anyway. Seems to me that blowing people up and shooting them and so forth violates the "thou shalt not kill" bit. (Translation probably should be "murder", but that doesn't actually help with Oklahoma City or assassinating abortion providers, in my view).


#332 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 12:55 PM:

John Mark Ockerbloom @329:

Yes, thank you! I knew it was in one of two books of Chesteron essays I'd given my father about seven years ago, but considering that I'd mislaid one of their titles, that wasn't leaving me a lot to go on.

#333 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 01:09 PM:

DDB @325:

I think there's a basic problem with religion in general. ...
I so seldom tell ML commenters they're off-topic that I've very nearly forgotten how to do it.

I'm sure it will come back to me.

#334 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 01:31 PM:

Teresa, #237: It's worth noting that it's not just religious people who have been chased out of this thread, and not necessarily by Alex. I was trying to catch up before commenting, as is my wont, and by fewer than 100 comments in it was already obvious to me that trying to participate in this conversation was a risk I wasn't willing to take; it was starting to feel like the period when I was living with the crazy housemate, and being Vewy Vewy Quiet rather than risk drawing his attention. With apologies to a few people like Nicole, with whose comments I would have enjoyed engaging, I am ceasing to read the thread.

#335 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 01:47 PM:

Fade Manley @282: Oh, great. Now the topic's runed.

(Whoa! I caught TextEdit 'fixing' the spelling there. Looks like I acquired a new version when we updated to a new computer. I have now fixed its desire to second-guess me.)

Bacchus @299, how about Baby Herman from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? as an example of an animated character of ambiguous age? When he's acting in a movie, he's an infant. When he's offstage, he's a middle-aged lecher smoking cigars. If somebody was found to have pictures on his computer involving Baby Herman and horrid acts, would that person be guilty of anything other than really questionable taste?

Juli Thompson @303, I know that essay, and in its honor came up with my own example of the Container For The Thing Contained fallacy: an irate plumber kicking the malfunctioning toilet and calling it a piece of ----.

PS: Sorry for any lingering format glitches. Somehow, I only get one preview these days, and then fix everything I can detect. Subsequent previews just show me the same thing as the first preview. It doesn't just happen here, so I expect it's something in Firefox. Can't be my computer because we bought a new one two days ago.

#336 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 02:27 PM:

Kip W @335, if you take the line about "I've got a fifty-year-old lust and a three-year-old dinky" as an affirmative statement of Baby Herman's calendar age, rather than a general characterization of emotion vs. size, then Baby Herman is a legal adult of unusual physical attributes, and is no more a child than Verne Troyer (Mini-Me).

I come down on the side of "he's a freakin' cartoon, folks, it shouldn't be prosecutable if everyone involved is FICTIONAL," but I know that the courts don't always see it that way.

#337 ::: Matt ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 02:43 PM:

Or if people are sentenced to jail for it, they can draw a picture of themselves having spent x amount of time in jail and go home.

#338 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 02:46 PM:

Matt @337:
if people are sentenced to jail for it, they can draw a picture of themselves having spent x amount of time in jail and go home.

Oh, that's very Harold and the Purple Crayon!

#340 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 03:04 PM:

abi @ 338... Not "Harold and Mauve"?

#341 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 03:09 PM:

Carrie S. #339: Thanks! I see the form is called a "glory twig". And it looks much more plausible than that "snowflake rune" for Norse style and methods....

#342 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 03:16 PM:

You do realize the reason why there's a prohibition against images of Muhammad is that he looks Jewish, right?

#343 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 03:21 PM:

I'm made about a half-dozen comments to this thread, and exited without posting. Whoops. I let one in.

#344 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 03:30 PM:

Given that most squid have a lifespan of less than 3 years, the law is going to have a real problem with tentacle porn. Oh, wait, the squid is a predator in most hentai, right? That means it's depicting a juvenile offender, which is contributing to the demoralization1 of a minor!

1. Umm ... maybe that's not exactly the right word? :-)

#345 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 03:31 PM:

Wait . . . Mohammad is a fursuiter?

#346 ::: Bacchus ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 04:10 PM:

Kip W #335: "Bacchus @299, how about Baby Herman from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? as an example of an animated character of ambiguous age? When he's acting in a movie, he's an infant. When he's offstage, he's a middle-aged lecher smoking cigars. If somebody was found to have pictures on his computer involving Baby Herman and horrid acts, would that person be guilty of anything other than really questionable taste?"

That's an excellent example, made better by the fact that I've seen those pictures. Rule 34: If it exists, there is porn of it.

It's a good example because the animators have deliberately conflated conflicting signifiers. Anime, of course, does this all the time, drawing child-sized individuals with huge baby-animal eyes, and then endowing them with, shall we say, really big and obvious adult sexual characteristics. Which signifiers are the ones to which criminal liability attaches? Ghu only knows; the grandstanding legislators responsible for this perplexity surely don't, they don't even understand that they've created a problem, nor care.

#347 ::: Mark_W ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 04:11 PM:

[*takes deep breath...*]

Albatross @ 330

...there's precious little support for violent enforcement of the rules to be found in the New Testament, for example

I agree completely with this, but when, later, you say:

I don't know how you get away from the "thou shalt nots" without abandoning the concept of a moral framework with which to judge the actions of your fellow humans.

I’m not so sure. I’m an atheist, but1, to go back to something Patrick links to in his sidelights from Paul Cornell’s splendid blog, I’m not convinced that there isn’t a Biblical ‘moral framework’ that gets away from the “thou shalt nots”...

The key phrase in Cornell’s post, is, of course:

[Christ told us] that when the book’s wrong, you chuck the book and love.

In the comments following that post, Cornell makes clear that he meant the “Sermon on the Mount, 'I did not come to abolish, but to complete (the Law)' and Mark 7, where he certainly abolishes some of it (the food laws). I take it from the sense of 'finishing' that he mentioned everything he wanted to continue. It's possible to argue against that. I think the commandment to love over-rules.”

So, although I certainly have no patience with people who think that morality depends on religion2, I’m not sure how important I think the “thou-shalt-nottery” is (however much I may personally, for example, think that standard criticisms of the Ten Commandments are (to pick an arbitrary example) often justified...)

And while we’re on the subject of Paul Cornell, can I also recommend from way back on the same blog, his Christmas Day 2006 post?:

And finally, a prayer that myself and my Atheist friends can share: may whichever of us is wrong make sure we love the other lot in the meantime, and do no harm.

Which, it seems to me, acknowledges that there are questions of right and wrong about this, but that it really doesn’t matter as much as (only some) on either side (only sometimes) try and make out...

All of which only ignores Teresa’s far more interesting original question, of course. In my own case, this is because I’ve been recently trying to understand something I read on The Valve about “fictional” characters but have epically failed to understand the argument to a sufficient extent to make a point, that, hours ago, I hoped I might do3


1 Oh noes! I didn’t want to be the “I’m-an-atheist-buttery” guy...

2 And I’ve come across no such (regular at least) people here, of course…

3 Or, indeed, crucially, sorted out exactly when (or if) Mohammed (or a ‘depiction’ of him, whether within or without a bear suit, or whether ultimately Santa Claus or not) becomes “fictional”...I shall have to think on about this...

#348 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 05:01 PM:

Mark_W: Atheist-buttery? I didn't know one needed religion to run a dairy!

#349 ::: Mark_W ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 05:27 PM:

Nancy,

I didn't know one needed religion to run a dairy!

Ha! No indeed...

:-)

Although maybe, given the prominence of wine in both (some) religions and (some) atheist lifestyles, perhaps the old Middle Ages definition of “buttery” is also appropriate...

#350 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 05:34 PM:

abi @239: infovores

Squee! <giggle>

#351 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 06:08 PM:

Nancy C Mittens @ 348... I didn't know one needed religion to run a dairy

"I think it was 'Blessed are the cheesemakers'."
"Aha, what's so special about the cheesemakers?"
"Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products. "

#352 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 06:50 PM:

Mark_W @ 349:

I read the Valve article you linked to; I think the quotes attributed to Anthony Everett show a fundamental mistake in understanding the nature of fiction. a mistake different from the one that Adam Roberts talks about in the article. Everett seems to assume that there is some Platonic world of fictional characters, and that all fictional characters have a distinct identity, such that any depiction of a fictional character in one story can be identical to (be the "the same fictional character" as) the depiction in another story. He also seems to assume that fictional characters can exist in a common ontology with real people (which seems to contradict the first assumption, but I don't believe he's thought his position through far enough to see that).

I disagree with both of these assumptions. In the first case, it seems clear to me that, while they have properties in common, and may be linked in some abstract concept space (see below), the Sherlock Holmes of the Conan Doyle books is not the same person, or the same fictional character (if there's a distinction between those concepts) as the Sherlock Holmes that Basil Rathbone portrayed in the movies1. How different do two depictions have to be before we can unambiguously accept them as two separate fictional characters? In the extreme, what relationship do M. d'Artagnan of Dumas' "The Three Musketeers" (who was based on a real person) and Khaavren of Steven Brust's "The Phoenix Guards" (who was based on d'Artagnan) have?

As for the second assumption, fictional characters and real persons exist in totally different metaphysical environments2. Fictional characters, as I've tried to show above, don't necessarily have clear identities, while people do (even Everett would have to agree that he's not going to find 2 people who are both the same and not the same person). There's also a question of where fictional characters exist: in the books they're written in? In the minds of the authors? In the minds of the readers? All of the above (but in different ways)?

I think fictional characters are very complex examples of mental concepts. Concepts don't exist by themselves, but in webs of relationships with other concepts. Similarly, fictional characters exist in webs of relationships with other characters from a given narrative, with other versions of the character from other narratives, with other characters from other narratives, and with real people who they may be based on or be similar to.

Here's a question that I think illuminates these ideas. What is the relationship between a real person and a Tuckerization of that person in a story? For instance, what's the relationship between Charlie Stross, the writer, and Lt. Stross, the character in John Scalzi's "Old Man's War" series?

1. And their respective Watsons are even more different.
2. Let's ignore for a bit the possibility that there might be some interaction between those environments as in many fantasy stories in which real people fall into books. Let's also ignore the nasty question of how to characterize a strong AI whose memories are those of a fictional character and who can interact with real people, perhaps in a VR environment. That technology doesn't exist yet, and I think it actually creates a different set of metaphysical questions.

#353 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 06:54 PM:

Nancy C. Mittens @ 348:

Maybe "Atheist-buttery" doesn't mean what you think it means. Think of creamy god-rejectionist goodness and very large food processors.

#354 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 08:02 PM:

Hey! You got chocolate in my atheist butter!

#355 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 08:47 PM:

What if I prefer chunky rather than creamy atheist butter?

And which brand do choosy atheists choose?

#356 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 08:49 PM:

Teresa at # 273: "I am Oz, the great and terrible, look upon my works and love me and despair."

Triple word score with two Z's!

#357 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 09:20 PM:

DDB at # 325: Since a big part of the purpose of religions seems to be to explain things in the universe which are not on a human scale, religions have to deal a lot with things not at human scale. The problem is, this makes it very easy, perhaps inevitable, to raise the stakes to the point where any human-scale consideration is irrelevant.

I think this difficulty in bridging the different scales is related to the difficulty we have been talking about in this thread about relating and distinguishing the signifier and the signified. In both cases, people want to convey complex and subtle insights, but everyday words in their straightforward meanings, put together plainly, can't do the job. So we use metaphors and tell stories and draw cartoons. The message is not in the literal meanings but in the impressions they create if the artist is successful. And Lewis and Tolkien can debate whether it is a noble lie or a true story and both be right.

But we're often tempted to snatch the low-hanging fruit or make an easy snarky retort or do a bit of rules-lawyering or ignore the subtleties and respond just to the part of the story that we thought we could understand without difficulty. And so we wind up debating the essence of pixels on a screen rather than an artist's attitudes towards someone else's revered prophet. Or raising the stakes to the next higher scale, we try to psychoanalyze an artist's attitudes towards our favorite prophet as if the artist had insulted our beloved mother rather than offered a different perspective on the meaning of life.

Will we ever cross these divides and all come to agreement and reach conclusions on the fundamental questions? Of course not. That's what makes it all wonderful.

BTW this all is one of my definitions of religion.

#358 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 09:23 PM:

Abi at # 208: organized religion looks much better when the alternative is the disorganized sort.

From a sermon I once gave: "Don't look to organized religion for all of the answers. Leave some room in your life for disorganized religion."

#359 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2010, 11:46 PM:

Sorry, was away for the weekend. Did not see the discussion (30, 38, 43?) that my link and subsequent apology started. The first post was a silly reference to Robert Smith wearing a bear suit in an old video that I used to love, albeit that I had seen it in a time when I was much younger and did not have context for the concept of blackface, and so that aspect hadn't set in my memory. I made the bear suit reference, linked the video for context to the joke, and then settled down to watch the video, only to make the rediscovery of the blackface. (TNH makes an argument that the blackface could be appropriate given that the song is about becoming the object of one's infatuation, but I still feel that the use was problematic, and I subsequently apologised because I didn't want to accidentally endorse it.)

As an atheist, I tend to feel that shenanigans by major organised religions attempting to suppress speech by people who would criticize them is generally fair game for satire, whereas blackface falls in the category of attacking those without power (which as Molly Ivins noted is cruel and vulgar). Making fun of the bear suit and wondering about the applications of blasphemy seems to me to be a dissection of religion rather than a direct attack on the followers of that religion. But that can be a fine line, and I hope I would be willing to reconsider the evidence if it turns out I've crossed it.

#360 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2010, 12:00 AM:

To bounce off what Niall McAuley said @311 - "IMy own beliefs have changed based on my experience, but I did not choose my new beliefs. I can't even imagine being able to choose my beliefs. " - I do not think I have ever seen a more succinct summation of my own approach to religious belief. The idea of belief, of faith in the Almighty being a conscious choice is so utterly alien to me that I quite handily cannot comprehend it. Every time my own religious beliefs have changed, they have done so out of their own accord, not out of any direction that I have forced myself to go.

To flesh this out a bit more, a goodly amount of background is in order. I grew up as a Reform Jew (which I still am, if rather a different one than I was several years ago) but until I went to university, I knew very little about the traditions, theology and reasoning behind what I practiced. The religious school I attended weekly as a child and later as a teenager never took our religious education much beyond the basics, and even those were superficial. I had the great good fortune to go to university at a school where the Hillel house was extremely active and friendly, regardless of observance. A friend, about halfway through my Freshman year, took me to the weekly Talmud class, and though I understood almost nothing of the topic under discussion, I found that it was where I needed to be at the time, as it kickstarted my own desire to know more about the religion with which I identified. Said friend asked me, after that hour, what I had thought and I answered "all knowledge is worth having" - and proceeded to attend that class nearly every week through my Senior year. To go back to the sentence that started me on this ramble, I never felt that there was really a choice for me there - many of my friends have never studied texts at that level and have no desire to do so, and I think no less of them for it - but I believed that doing so was right for me at the time.

Perhaps the best example I can give of this is something I continue to do to this day, also an example of religious practice that was not so much a choice, but rather what felt correct (and still feels correct for me). A few years ago, maybe a year and a half after the experience I recounted above, I came across an essay, by a fellow Reform Jew, on wrapping tefillin. Now, at the time I read the essay (I was, roughly, 20 at the time), I had seen - maybe - a single set of tefillin in my life. Yet I found that obtaining a pair of my own and wrapping tefillin myself became somehow critical to my own beliefs. Some part of me wanted that ritual, wanted that daily action and the theology which went behind it - and knew that it was something I needed to do. Shortly after this, I obtained a set of my own and have not missed a day since. For me, these two anecdotes are, for me, an explanation of why choosing beliefs like baubles is utterly alien - I find that I have not chosen beliefs and practices, but almost as if they have chosen me, and as such, I am firmly in agreement with Niall's original point.

This is not to say that I believe that my beliefs and practices will remain immutable and static from now until the end of my days - far from it. I expect them to change, I expect to learn more - but I also expect that given my experience thus far, I will not feel that I am choosing what to believe and what not to believe, but rather that things are clicking into place in ways they had not before. While the examples I have given are of practice, I find that they reinforce my beliefs and my faith - to the point where the beliefs of others (of my religion or not) are not likely to change my own. I may come to new beliefs in time, or I may not - but I am untroubled by where the beliefs of others differ from my own. To pull my post back to the general core of the conversation, I believe it would behoove those who are up in arms over a cartoon to realize that the actions of others, even in regard to aspects of a religion that they do not share, are truly no concern of theirs and as such, should merely be ignored if they are somehow distressing.

I, myself, am no great fan of South Park - although I watch an episode or two a year when my brother convinces me I will actually enjoy what passes for its plot - but I have never had a problem with their continual satirization of anyone and anything. As far as I can tell, there is no malice in their work - a desire to create crude humor, sure - but no desire to cause any particular group pain. In essence, they are equal-opportunity satirists, although they are rather more profane than the satirists of decades past.

The central issue from my point of view - at least in terms of the question which spawned this tread - is the failure of certain dour persons to find any humor in their religious practice and beliefs. This confounds me - I find it rather strange that someone can be so bound up in the laws and structure of their own belief that nothing can be permitted to be amusing. I cannot think of anyone I know, religious or not, who has been unable to derive some amusement from their beliefs, or from what others have made them out to be. Such a dour approach to belief is, for me, at odds with the interaction my own beliefs have with the wider world. While I feel almost chosen by my beliefs, they are entirely comfortable with being laughed at. And with this, I am content in saying that I support those who use religion as the basis for humor - as I support those who use agnosticism and atheism for the same.

#361 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2010, 10:29 AM:

Mark W #347:

I guess the issue I'm trying to get at might best be described as inward-facing vs outward-facing morality. It seems like most of any moral code or system of morality is going to be inward facing--how do I judge my own actions and improve them? But if you live among other people, I think you also need to have some notion of outward-facing moral judgments. That is, you need to be able to say something about whether there's a moral difference between the slave trader and the doctor running a free clinic.

This is necessary even for inward-facing morality, as you need to guide your own interactions with other people. Ought you take a job as a file clerk for the slave trader? After all, file clerking doesn't itself violate your moral code. Many times, we may even feel the need to speak out or protest or take some other action in response to seeing other people behave badly, according to our moral codes.

In order to live a full moral life, I think we need both. That kind-of contradicts the whole "judge not, lest ye be judged" teaching, but I don't see how else to be a decent person in this world. (And other parts of the new testament are very clear on judging some actions as evil, and requiring a certain amount of judgment of what other people in your church are doing, and whether to keep them in or throw them out as a result.)

My intuition here is that we are better citizens and neighbors when we accept a wider range of behavior from people very different from us, when we expect better from members of our own religion, political party, workplace, etc., than from strangers of different religions, parties, etc. But I can't really justify that too well. I just notice that a willingness to judge very different people *more* harshly than members of your own nation or party or church often ends badly.

#362 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2010, 10:42 AM:

Schopenhauer wrote something applicable to belief: "You can do what you want, but you can't want what you want."

Belief seems essential to the functioning of the mind, and I'm fascinated by the neurological processes at the heart of it.

#363 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2010, 11:38 AM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @259: I'm still behind, but I'm going to jump in here, because this is the perfect opportunity to offer up my gentle little bemusement about B. Durbin's birthday prezzie.

I am given to understand that, if you feed and wash these things regularly, and are reasonably nice to them, they get bigger, and at some point you can actually start having, like, conversations with them. I've actually observed this phenomenon a couple of times. It's the darnedest thing!

And meanwhile, experience suggests that this creature will be observing all the big, similarly-shaped creatures around it, and wonder when they will actually become willing and able to engage in decent conversations, too.

#364 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2010, 11:47 AM:

Jacque @363:

Yea, verily, this is all true. Indeed, they often come up with their own thoughts and observations, and have been known to teach new things to their progenitors.

I gather that this is a reliable source of New and Interesting People. I heard it once, and I'm actually testing it myself at the moment. Preliminary results are encouraging.

#365 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2010, 12:06 PM:

abi @ 364 Is that where they all come from? I mostly see them as they're going through the studentus inebrius phase of their college experience,* sometimes referred to as the cocoon years, and had kind of wondered what the larval state looked like. Very interesting.

*Representatives of which for some reason often migrates through my backyard in their cycling between feeding in the downtown bars and dormancy in the student housing west of us.

#366 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2010, 01:29 PM:

I'm reminded now of a scene I never saw in a production of Pagliacci, described by a teacher, of Canio singing "Vesti la giubba" with anger, sorrow, and a resignation that would give way to murderous rage, as he puts on the clown white for the circus. Adding to the usual emotions of the scene, the part was performed by a black man.

You're just an actor! Put on the make-up, powder your face, go make them laugh!

#367 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2010, 03:47 PM:

Yea, verily, this is all true. Indeed, they often come up with their own thoughts and observations, and have been known to teach new things to their progenitors.

I understand that you can give them your love but not your thoughts; they have their own thoughts. You can house their bodies, but not their souls, for their souls dwell in a place of tomorrow that you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

Have you found this to be the case?

#368 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2010, 04:32 PM:

Xopher

You've just made me cry. And also made me very glad that I didn't, as I have contemplated doing in the past few days, turn my back on ML and all its works.

Also, what abi said.

(And B Durbin, congratulations. Also, to producde the Shakespeare sonnet within a few days of giving birth.. clearly you have superhuman powers.)

#369 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2010, 04:59 PM:

I love reading the comments here, though I rarely have much to add (and sometimes embarrass myself when I think I do).

Something in this thread reminds me of when, in the mid-1990s, I'd lost my faith. A queer fundamentalist Christian coming from a church with--does it need said?--an emphasis much more on the OT God than the NT, I'd finally begun sorting through the pretzel logic that had been putting me through the paces for most of my life.

Skipping the melodrama: I, in my newfound disbelief, realized that I missed the brotherhood, the sense of camaraderie. I started attending the local Humanist and Atheist Student Association but didn't make it to many meetings--it might have been two.

The thing that struck me immediately about the people in the group was that all of the regulars* were disillusioned and bitter. It wasn't that they simply had stopped believing, but rather that their emotional investments had crashed, their 401ks been wiped out. They were angry, unmoored, unhappy.

I know this small group wasn't like all atheists and humanists everywhere, but I found the meetings really unpleasant and certainly not as warm and close as the church had been for its insiders.

I was bitter then, too, angry as well, but not so much that I didn't realize the unattractiveness of it and hope not to be like the people in the group. I'm still not sure if I've achieved it, but I try.

*One person in the group who didn't strike me as bitter at all, and who I felt a great deal of sympathy for even without understanding the full implications of what he was saying, was a young man who'd been raised Muslim. His voice cracked as he told us that his name was Mohammad Suleiman but that he didn't believe in God. I think about him sometimes, and hope he's living somewhere he can express himself freely, and I hope he's found some peace.

#370 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2010, 05:06 PM:

Xopher @367:

I give them my love. They absorb it somewhere inside them, and it increases (I swear, it breeds like rabbits. No, tribbles.) And then they give it back.

I give them my thoughts from the setting of the sun to its rising, while they lie asleep in their beds. And when we're apart, when I'm traveling or they're in school...wait, that's not what you meant, is it?

I give them my thoughts, with explanations. They walk around in them like unfamiliar shoes for a bit, see if they fit, see if they make the world more comprehensible. If my ideas don't fit them, I tell them that's just how I work, and that we're different people, and that I love that fact. In return, they give me their thoughts, usually in slightly more disordered ways, and then we have even more to talk about. We seem to share a lot of fundamental principles, but even those I teach by doing more than by talking.

I have the honor of housing their bodies for a time. I had the pleasure of housing them inside me, back when we didn't have to have quite so many conversations about tidying their rooms.

I have the pleasure of giving their souls a place to perch, but I am under no illusions that I own them, or even get too look at them that closely. I wish them safe journey wherever they wander.

#371 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2010, 05:13 PM:

Lest anyone think I just made that up, I was quoting this.

praisegod, thank you, but the praise belongs to Gibran, not to me.

#372 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2010, 05:16 PM:

johnofjack @369:

From the sound of it, many of the people in that group were there because of what it was not rather than what it was. (I could be wrong, of course; I'm just reading your impression. Perhaps there were people with overwhelmingly positive reasons to be there. If so, I wonder if they were vexed at the other folks harshing their mellow?)

On the one hand, it's hard to create a thriving community based on a negative. On the other, of course, it sounds like a lot of people needed to spend some time breaking their identification with their former religions. And that's a process that frequently requires a degree of anger and unhappiness.

I guess I'd say, if you found yourself looking for a community again, to look for a group that identifies itself in positive terms.

(This blinding glimpse of the obvious has been brought to you by the number π and the letter ξ)

#373 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2010, 05:35 PM:

johnofjack@369: Interesting report. I can understand that, especially around a college, an atheist group would largely be populated by people for whom it was a recent development, and that they might, fairly consistently, have had a bad time of it.

I don't have any idea what losing a faith that used to be important might be like. I've never had any touch of religious belief, and if my grandparents or most of my aunts and uncles did, they didn't ever mention it. (There's circumstantial evidence that a grandfather professed some religious faith; could you be an English officer pre-WWI without? But I saw him quite a few times, and he never mentioned the subject to me, was never mysteriously unavailable Sunday morning, etc.) So I never rejected or outgrew religion; I was never introduced to it. But it seems like it would be pretty traumatic.

I don't define my life around atheism, so I haven't felt any particular urge to seek out atheist groups. Of course, while defining a fair amount of my life around science fiction, I've found a lot of atheists, and the theists tend to be sane and relatively quiet, mostly.

#374 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2010, 08:46 PM:

On choosing one's beliefs. I think I can fairly state that I chose mine. I was raised a fundamentalist Christian, and was a preacher's kid. Pretty heavy duty religion. When I went away to college I was finally free to question my basic beliefs. It came down to the fact that I couldn't believe that an omnicient, omnipotent, onmibenevolent god could condemn people to hell. No matter how I twisted it in my mind, I couldn't believe that my boyfriend was going to hell. Which meant that god didn't exist. It didn't occur to me that got might not be omnivorous. To this day, I have trouble with the concept of god not being onmipotent and omnicient.

Without god, I realized I had no philosophical place to stand. Why do I exist? Because god made me. What is sin? Any want of conformity or transgression of the law of god. So how do I account for myself and my reaction to others? How do I order my life? I had to start from scratch.

I came up with some basics that have stood me in good stead. My beginning was the Cogito. (My boyfriend was a philosophy major.) Ok, so I exist. Arbitrarily, I decided that other people exist. I couldn't prove it, but my experience pointed that way. The next step was: Pain hurts. The third was: Don't hurt other people without a damn good reason. This covers the basics. I had to do without an answer to why I exist, but that seemed like the wrong question. As for the others, it seemed like it created a philosophical underpinning for treating with myself and others.

I went through all that in a painstaking manner, very consciously. The big decision was to believe in things that I could see myself, rather than accept some other system. I come out with a fairly conventional morality for most things. I haven't seen the need to change much. But then, they're really basic principles. The implementation details have varied over the years.

#375 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 01:12 AM:

Xopher:

Whoever first formulated the words, you're the one that brought them into this conversation today. That counts for quite a lot for me right now.

#376 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 01:22 AM:

Lydy Nickerson @374

My upbringing sounds quite similar to yours. And for years after I personally rejected religion, I very much understood and empathized and even felt a bit wistful about other people who remained calm and confident and joyful in their various faiths.

One of the trends I've noted in my own psyche, especially within the last year or so, is an increasing resistance and sometimes even an irrational and brittle anger towards all things religious, though. To the point that I've even sometimes just stopped following blogs I've followed for years, because they perhaps mentioned their religion or matters of faith a time or two more than I was comfortable with. I dunno. It's perhaps not so active a choice as that, in some cases - in those cases, I suppose it's more like a passive aversion. But that's almost weirder because I don't even realize it's happened sometimes for weeks or even months, when I suddenly think, "huh. I haven't looked at XYZ Blog in forever...." and I'm accustomed to exerting a good deal more deliberation over those choices.

But while I'm quite troubled by that internal personal barometric change, I'm even more alarmed to find myself rather enormously sympathetic with that much cruder, baser impulse to jeer and mock all things religious; Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslim - it's all taken on sort of a weird sameness from this semi-disassociated but still very angry new perspective.

While I'm troubled by this development between my own ears, and I keep helplessly sorting the different factors that might be playing into it -- what's really most alarming is the prospect that I'm perhaps suffering a subcultural symptom of a greater anger and polarization that doesn't bode well for people who aren't particularly inclined towards such introspection. I have absolutely no evidence that such is the case, it's sheer speculation on my part...but it doesn't seem like a huge leap, either.

#377 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 04:36 AM:

B.Durbin belated congratulations.

abi @ 370, and others: almost makes me wish I had some. Almost.

johnofjack @ 369: "church with--does it need said?--an emphasis much more on the OT God than the NT"

Apologies if this sours things, but: why do Christians* keep blaming the OT for all the bad teachings of their religion? As a Jew (Reform**, British version), the teachings I get from those books*** and that God is (in very-brief): don't kill, don't bear false witness or covet what others have. Don't put a stumbling block before the blind or curse the deaf (or similar behaviours). Help your neighbour when he needs it. Be kind to animals. Do justice, love mercy and kindness. Help those weaker and less fortunate than you are, including strangers (those outwith your group)****, preferably in a way which helps them reach a point where they are no longer dependent on charity and in which they don't feel beholden to you (e.g. give anonymously). You are responsible for your own actions and their consequences - for yourself, your community and the wider community, so try to do things that make the world a better place.

* Not all, but many, as the "does it need to be said" indicates.
** Note: Reform, not Reformed. We're supposed to keep growing and thinking.
*** And commentaries on them.
**** "For you were strangers in the land of Egypt"

#378 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 05:28 AM:

Lydy @ 374, do you think you could have chosen to believe something different? Like what? I'm honestly baffled as to how that might work.

#379 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 06:53 AM:

MacAllister #376: If this is only happening in the "last year or so", but it's "years after [you] rejected religion"... perhaps you're actually converting frustration or hurt from another part of your life?

I also note that without much (a)religious change of my own, I drifted away from reading Pharyngula, because it's overall tone was just getting too hostile for me.

dcb #377: Modern Jewry is hardly an Old Testament tribe anymore... the various commentaries (Talmud, Midrash) of the Rabbinical tradition -- not to mention centuries of oppression -- have deeply shaped both our beliefs and our behavior. (Also, Christianity accepts a lot more Old Testament than the Pentateuch)

#380 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 07:43 AM:

dcb, 377: Yesterday I passed a church sign that said, "King James Bible read and taught here! It's not a version, it's the truth!"

Does that sound like people who *think* in church? That's the difference between your average Jew and your average crazy Christian. One is expected to engage with the text, and one is expected to sit down and shut up.

#381 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 07:44 AM:

dcb, it's my suspicion that "blame the OT" could more precisely be put as "blame Leviticus," which is where so many of the rigid rules live. And, of course, where the famous one that so many homophobic Christians use to justify their homophobia is found.

Plus, all of the instances of God smiting various enemies. It's not a particularly peaceable collection of stories.

It was a major case of cognitive dissonance, in my sent-to-a-Conservative-temple-for-Hebrew-school-by-agnostic-parents childhood, trying to reconcile Rabbi Hillel's admirable condensation ("do not do unto others that which would be hateful to you; the rest is explanation. Now go and study") with what I was ACTUALLY being set to study. The stories of the patriarchs didn't seem to come out that way at ALL.

#382 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 10:17 AM:

dcb @ 377, sorry--I hope *I* haven't soured the conversation. You're right that I was making at least two assumptions there. One is that the OT God strikes me as much harsher than the NT God, and the other is that I thought most Christians would feel the same way.

In my church (which, I should have kept firmly in mind, is not representative of all Christian churches), what we got from the Old Testament was indeed a lot of Leviticus and a lot of smiting enemies, plaguing unbelievers, and even punishing believers who complained (or, in the case of Job, who didn't complain). The emphasis in the church was very much on obeying without questioning, the motivation much more stick than carrot. Even when discussing Jesus's teachings the focus might be briefly calm and beatific but would always, without fail, swing around from faith, hope and love to damnation, fire, and brimstone.

My impression is that the NT God believes that humans will do good if provided a positive reason to do so, whereas the OT God is much more skeptical of human nature and is actually eager for the chance to punish.

Again, I should bear in mind that my past experience (and the commentary of outspoken jackasses like Phelps and Robertson) that these impressions are not representative of Christian belief as a whole.

Your reading of the OT sounds a lot different from mine, and frankly is a set of teaching I could gladly live with.

#383 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 11:01 AM:

Rikibeth: "it's my suspicion that "blame the OT" could more precisely be put as "blame Leviticus," which is where so many of the rigid rules live. And, of course, where the famous one that so many homophobic Christians use to justify their homophobia is found." Yes, I know, but Christians quoting rigid Leviticus laws in the same breath as "Jesus's teachings mean we don't have to follow the rules written down in the OT" irritates me*. As for its use to hit people over the head regarding homosexuality, it's mentioned once in Leviticus (okay, twice: once in the list of things not to do and again when the punishments are listed) like a lot of other things. It's not in the Big Ten (unlike say, adultery, for which the same punishment is suggested). And the illogicality of saying "homosexuality is wrong because it says so in Leviticus" while happily eating a pork sandwich...

Yes, I know, as TexAnne says, thinking is not being encouraged.

* Just to be clear: johnofjack, I'm not accusing you of doing this!

#384 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 11:25 AM:

Carrie S.#339

Thanks for linking that store - what a fantastic place. I wish I'd known about it back when I LARPed (although actually it's possibly best that I didn't, as some of the items are rather expensive).

#385 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 11:30 AM:

johnofjack @382: (I thought I'd refreshed before posting, but my last was written before reading your post @ 382) No, it was just your post which made me finally say something about this! In my experience, it's the Christian churches who emphasis the smiting aspects of the OT. Judaism (at least the version I was raised in) emphasises the things I indicated @377 (which is why, along with the sense of community, I stay with it even if I'm not sure I believe in God). I'm pleased you like them.

My impression is that the NT God believes that humans will do good if provided a positive reason to do so, whereas the OT God is much more skeptical of human nature and is actually eager for the chance to punish

The God I was taught about says things like: "I put before you life and death, blessing and curse - choose life!" - very far from being eager to punish.

Skeptical of human nature - perhaps, but that's why laws are laid down, both general ("He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: only to do justice, and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God." and specific: "Do not steal" and examples from which more general conclusions can be drawn ("do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind." Or, to put it another way, "the Torah was not given to angels." That is, you don't write down prohibitions against things you don't expect people to be tempted by.

So it's all in the teaching emphasis.

Me, I can't see anything good in Paul's teachings because the misogyny comes across loud and clear every time I try to read any of it and drowns out pretty much everything else (and he appears way too interested in the sins of lust).

#386 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 01:21 PM:

praisegod barebones @368: And also made me very glad that I didn't, as I have contemplated doing in the past few days, turn my back on ML and all its works.

Yeep! I, too, am glad you didn't!

#387 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 02:23 PM:

Lydy Nickerson @ 374: "On choosing one's beliefs. I think I can fairly state that I chose mine....It came down to the fact that I couldn't believe that an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent god could condemn people to hell."

I don't know, but that doesn't sound like a choice to me--you could not believe that, even if you tried. The other stuff, that you constructed to replace what you had lost was built deliberately but the impetus, the necessity of building, was not voluntary. (My apologies if I'm overstepping here.)

That's the thing about logic--things either *hwomm* with that moral-aesthetic rightness or they don't, and even if you don't want them to it's still there. I don't remember what particular point of abstract philosophy it was that was proven to me despite my strenuous objections, but I do remember the feeling of being compelled to rearrange my world against my will. I suppose I could have rejected that pull, but I couldn't fail to feel it and to know that it was true.

The strangest thing is that I've felt that *hwomm* about something and then learned something new and had it vanish, or shift, but I didn't in any case choose to feel the rightness of something, and then choose to feel a different rightness. It simply happened to me.

#388 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 03:22 PM:

Behind, as always, but:

MacAllister @376: This is a very strange thing: I find that most of the evangelism I encounter lately is of the atheist school. Very odd. Seems almost like a contradiction. And since religion, specifically, and spirituality, generally are matters of subjective experience and not amenable to empirical proof, I find attitudes like 251 above to be particularly perplexing. (Why would anybody care about what relationship I have with the Numinous within the privacy of my own skull?)

dcb @377: re: abi @ 370, and others: almost makes me wish I had some. Almost.

I prefer rentals, personally. Give them back at the end of the day. Much safer for all concerned. :)

@380, 381: I think what you're seeing here is a desire for certainty and clarity. Of course, these states can be achieved through one's own independent evolution (ref: Lydy @374:). But it's hard work, and if one feels unsafe in one's world, and has been systematically trained to distrust one's own intrinsic values and experience (if only by a controlling parent who desires a pliable child*), externally imposed systems become very attractive.

This is a dilemma I face with an old friend: we can't even discuss matters spiritual because I am a secular humanist cultural relativist and she's a fundamentalist Christian. I like to explore questions and follow implications. She wants a One True Way.

* Praise be to Abi. Can I start over and be one of your kids, please?

#389 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 03:31 PM:

Jacque@388: (Why would anybody care about what relationship I have with the Numinous within the privacy of my own skull?)

I wouldn't, if it didn't affect your behavior. I wouldn't much if it only affected your private behavior. But since in general such things affect behavior at all levels, including voting, I find myself concerned with other people's beliefs.

#390 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 03:54 PM:

ddb: Hm. Okay, point taken.

#391 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 04:03 PM:

ddb @389:

That's actually kinda creepy. It's also license for others to snoop into your beliefs. Extended, it's an excuse to come a-knocking at your door with a holy tract.

I tend to back off of that, myself, and look to things that people can agree on from a variety of ethical frameworks. If someone supports the same stuff I support because their humanist ethics has led them where my Christian charity has, I'm happy. Contrariwise, if I disagree with someone, I don't think bringing my religious arguments into their ethical cosmos is likely to be either interesting or effective.

So, for my part, Jacque, the space between your ears is inviolate.

#392 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 04:12 PM:

abi:

I'm certainly interested in understanding other peoples' beliefs, though I don't think I have any right to demand that they look more like I want. Partly, I'm interested in other peoples' beliefs so I can learn from them, partly so I can understand and predict their behavior.

The space between your ears is entirely yours, but those around you almost certainly spend a lot of time guessing what's going on there, so they can interact with you.

#393 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 04:22 PM:

I was perhaps overstating it. But ddb's comment felt intrusive to me. Like he was entitled to know, because it could affect him.

That's a door that swings both ways, and it's not a pleasant one. So while I'm interested in what other people believe, I'm also entirely happy to leave them their privacy.

#394 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 04:22 PM:

Abi@391: It's license to snoop into my public actions on my beliefs -- the same limits I set on myself with regard to them, in fact.

I can certainly make alliances with people working for the same immediate goals for different reasons than mine.

#395 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 04:23 PM:

abi @ 391: "If someone supports the same stuff I support because their humanist ethics has led them where my Christian charity has, I'm happy. Contrariwise, if I disagree with someone, I don't think bringing my religious arguments into their ethical cosmos is likely to be either interesting or effective."

Seconded by this humanist.

I'm thinking of starting an organization called "Coalition of People Who Think That Pushing Metaphysical Beliefs On Others is Rude (And Also Misguided)." We CPWTTPMBONIR(AAM)ers will of course have hand signs with only the finest and most elegant misspellings, and stand on only the highest quality street corners.

#396 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 04:24 PM:

Abi@393: You're "interested in", I'm "concerned with". I think we've said about the same things, and I was pretty explicit that my legitimate concern was with their public actions.

#397 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 04:27 PM:

heresiarch @395:

I am afraid I will have to found a rival group, CPWTTPBAMMOOIR(AWAM)*, to stand with our elegantly formatted signs on what we judge to be somewhat better street corners than yours.

-----
* Coalition of People Who Think That Pushing Beliefs About Metaphysical Matters On Others Is Rude (As Well As Misguided). Accept no substitutes. Ask for us by name.

#398 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 04:29 PM:

This, of course, means war.

#399 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 04:31 PM:

Well, if you want to push your beliefs about the legitimacy of violence on me, that makes you a bunch of big fat hypocrites, doesn't it?

Yah, boo!

#400 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 04:41 PM:

See also: neener.

#401 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 04:44 PM:

I wouldn't dream of forcing my beliefs re: the legitimacy of violence on you. Indeed I am quite content--nay, ecstatic--to have you hold tight to the most benevolent, violence-abjuring, baby-bunny-snuggling of philosophies. I salute you, madame! Never surrender your convictions!

On an entirely unrelated note, does anyone know of a good online supplier of ballista parts?

#402 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 04:49 PM:

Starbucks? Brewery Mart? Dunkin' Donuts?

... oh, ballista

*nevermind*

#403 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 04:50 PM:

Heretics, both of you, from the One True Way of the "Coalition of People Who Think That Pushing Metaphysical Beliefs On Others is Misguided (And Also Rude)."

#404 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 04:57 PM:

Oh, I didn't actually declare what my views on violence are. I was simply talking about how your actions impose your beliefs on me. And if hypocrisy is your thing, well, don't let me get in the way!

As to the ballista parts, I have no experience of these things to speak of, but I hear a lot about Joe's Fatally Defective Primitive Projectile Supply. Their Extra-High Tension Low-Rated Ropes are certainly well-known to specialists in the area; I've not yet met one who did not recognize the name and come out with some quite decided reviews, unprompted.

#405 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 05:03 PM:

*sigh*

These people play so far above my head that all I can do is sit in their shadow and gape in awe. (And pray that no pigeons fly over.)

#406 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 05:04 PM:

there are two monty python references to be made here, sc. "splitters!" and "lancez le ours!", but i'm too discreet to make them.

too discreet and high-toned.

too discreet, high-toned, and fanatically loyal to the pope.

sorry: there are three monty python references to be made here....

oh bugger.

#407 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 05:10 PM:

Oh, you don't want to be sitting in OtterB's shadow, Jacque. Not noonishly, anyway, nor too close to the equator, if you see what I mean.

'Cause heresiarch is a warlike sort with an entirely unrelated hobby involving projectiles. And probably has bad aim, looks funny, and has a mother who designs ugly uniforms for people who stand around with signs.

Which is, of course, perfectly OK.

#408 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 05:13 PM:

abi, heresiarch, Jacque etc: *chuckle*

#409 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 05:14 PM:

Hah! serendipity* strikes again!

* I just discovered this while confirming the spelling of "pigeon," but it now seems, er, appropriate.

#410 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 05:17 PM:

I oppose all of you! Only the "Coalition of People Who Think That Pushing Misguided, Rude Beliefs On Others is Metaphysical (And That's All)" shall triumph!

Wait, that doesn't make sense...um...

Never mind! I denounce you all! *denounces everyone*

#411 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 05:27 PM:

Follow the sandal of Brian!

#412 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 05:35 PM:

ah, the unraveling of a thread...

(...or is that "raveling"...?)

#413 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 05:41 PM:

Jacque #412:

Yet another of those words which, when a prefix is added that would normally reverse the meaning, continues to mean the same.

Is there a name for this phenomenon?

#414 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 05:57 PM:

johnofjack @ 369: et seq. I've been thinking about my reactions to this while out on my run (a nice eight miles, this evening).

There are a couple of things going on: (1) We (Jews) go by what Christians call the OT. The teachings I grew up with are, however, very different from the emphasis that Christians tend to put on the OT. The emphasis from Christians tends to imply (as you indicate @ 382) "OT God harsh, NT God nice" - which I find both unfair and an attack on my religion (we don't even have a concept of "Hell" as Christianity does - so using the OT to preach fire & brimstone seems inappropriate).

- Also, it worries me that, if that's what Christians think about the OT and the OT God, that might also be the impression they have of what Judaism is about?

(2) Not uncommonly, Christians (or those purporting to be Christians) quote from the OT (our holy books) in a selective and out-of-context manner, in order to "prove" a point. I really dislike this.

Jacque @409: wonderful!

abi @ 391: "If someone supports the same stuff I support because their humanist ethics has led them where my Christian charity has, I'm happy. Thirded by this somewhat agnostic Jew.

#415 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 06:07 PM:

ddb @ 389:

What do you use to map people's internal beliefs to their actions? How do you establish the particular part of a person's actual belief system (as opposed to the one they profess) that maps to a particular action?

I don't think those questions have reasonable answers, which is why I don't try to pierce that particular veil. I'm with abi and heresiarch on this one: work with those who are working for the same ends you are.

Except of course that I refuse to deal with Trotskyites of their ilk! Be warned, counter-revolutionaries: your ballistas and trebuchim will avail you naught, for I will have a Galactic Patrol issue Mark XXIV Delameter!

#416 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 06:31 PM:

Bruce@415: Wait, there's a model later than the 17?

I never did find out when the DeLameter replaced the Lewiston.

Oh, but you asked a question, too. Experience. Different levels of confidence are achievable with different levels of evidence by inductive reasoning. When the principles are clearly stated and the logic leading to the actions is clear to me, I take it more seriously than if I'm making most of it up.

You often find out a lot about philosophical positions before you have a chance to observe a lot of actions, so I find it a useful predictor.

#417 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 07:08 PM:

@415: "Eat hot photons and die, Terran Scum!!"

Or words to that effect.

That's a very cool Galactic Patrol issue Mark XXIV Delameter, I have to say.

DDB: Really! Even with people you interact with only casually or not at all? I tend to find that knowing people's philosophical positions comes only after knowing them for some time, which means that I only get behavioral indicators for the vast majority of the people in my world.

(Which, to be clear, is not to say that I think you're Wrong. Just that you're Different than I am. But this is not news. :> )

#418 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 07:31 PM:

Niall @ 378:
I could have chosen a less virulent form of Christianity. I had lots of examples. I could have chosen to be a Buddhist. For various reasons, it didn't suit. I felt a need to be self-sufficient. It sure seemed like a choice at the time. Not inevitable.

#419 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 07:53 PM:

I wonder if Teresa remembers that, when we met at Westercon last summer, we greeted each other with the secret handshake of the People's Front of Judea.

#420 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 08:23 PM:

DCB at # 414: Not uncommonly, Christians (or those purporting to be Christians) quote from the OT (our holy books) in a selective and out-of-context manner, in order to "prove" a point.

Just like we do with the NT.

#421 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 09:18 PM:

abi @ 404: "I was simply talking about how your actions impose your beliefs on me."

Ah, but my objection is purely to pushing metaphysical beliefs on others--not any other more, how to put it, tangible values. As my old mum liked to say,* there's nothing metaphysical about a ballista bolt to the bridge of the nose.†

And don't even talk to me about Joe's Fatally Defective Primitive Projectile Supply. Why do you think I'm in the market for ballista parts in the first place, or wearing this eye patch?‡

---
* While sewing a quite fetching uniform for standing around with signs in, thank you very much.

†Though at this rate I'll probably have to hand-carry it over. Honestly, I don't see how anyone ever made practical use of these things.

‡ Yes, it does match my uniform, no, she will not sew you one.

#422 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2010, 09:45 PM:

I will not buy this line of reasoning.

It is scratched.

#423 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 03:07 AM:

@ 389-400ish and heresiarch 421

Some of the thoughts expressed here put me in mind of one of my favourite English Protestant sects, the Muggletonians, who had a prohibition on preaching.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muggletonianism

(Incidentally, I'm inclined to take the suggestion, found in the Wikipedia article, that they were against it because they weren't terribly good at it to be somewhat ungenerous.)

(Tangentially to that: someone - possibly abi? - made some disaproving sounds about 'disorganised religion' upthread. I think I understand, and have some sympathy with the thought; and yet at the same time, I found myself thinking that in fact, some of the religious movements with which I had greatest sympathy with are ones that might be characterised - and might characterise themselves as 'disorganised religion'. So I was also amused to find this phrase cropping up when the Muggletoniams were discussed.)

(and finally - and in contrast to everything else I've said, and to the general tenor of this subthread: I'd just like to register - but not argue for - a certain level of dissent from what looks to be the emerging consensus here that metaphysical beliefs are off limits for discussion *in general*. As with everything else I think there is a time and a place; and for lots of reasons, the time and place is 'not here' and certainly 'not here, not now'. But as a general principle? That's something i'm uncomfortable with.(And once again, I seem to find myself in agreement,in content, if not in manner of expression,with ddb; who i'm very glad to find is still around.))

#424 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 03:49 AM:

praisegod barebones @423:

Metaphysical beliefs are always open to discussion. That's something people do. My concern was that it's absolutely clear that they're only open to discussion with the consent of all parties involved.

If Guildenstern does not want to discuss his current, past, or probable future relations with the Numen or its absence, it's no one's business to pry into them, speculate about them, or try to guess them based on his voting record. (People have been known to do so, of course, but its intrusive, and I'd not be very comfortable with anyone acting on such shadowy evidence.) What he volunteers, he volunteers, but he gets to decide where his privacy begins.

Likewise, if Rosenkrantz wants to tell everyone about his take on Questions of the Infinite, and no one wants to hear them, then it's rude to go on. Particularly if that leads into his views on the people who have a different take, their level of intelligence, credulousness, morality, or taste in clothing.

Obviously, in a comment thread, where participation is voluntary, it's the former transgression that bothers me more than the latter. But there are also people who are so emotionally involved in these matters that, knowing such a discussion is going on in a community, they're going to get sucked in and then be wretched. And space has to be made for that tendency (pace JHD), because this is a community, and our conversations and relationships are interwoven.

#425 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 04:23 AM:

Metaphysical beliefs are always open to discussion. That's something people do. My concern was that it's absolutely clear that they're only open to discussion with the consent of all parties involved.

That's something I'm completely in agreement with - and why I think there's something right about the Muggletonians. I hope I didn't say otherwise. (But it looks as though even if I didn't say it I might have been read as suggesting otherwise: I'm not sure why, unless it was just that my comment was so over-burdened with qualifications that some of them got mentally edited out)

But there are also people who are so emotionally involved in these matters that, knowing such a discussion is going on in a community, they're going to get sucked in and then be wretched. And space has to be made for that tendency (pace JHD), because this is a community, and our conversations and relationships are interwoven.

I'm also in agreement with that, which is why I said:

As with everything else I think there is a time and a place; and for lots of reasons, the time and place is 'not here' and certainly 'not here, not now'.

But 389-391 seemed not to be about what was appropriate here, or here and now; but what was appropriate in general. That's what I wanted to express my dissent from; I'm sorry if I misread their intent.

#426 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 04:37 AM:

My concern about ddb's assertion was that it might mean that he thought it was OK for him to pry into Jacque's relationship with the Numinous, or speculate about it without Jacque's consent. I'm not comfortable with that, not at all, not anywhere. I know it happens, but that doesn't mean it's something I agree with.

Nor am I comfortable with the related activities of drawing conclusions about people based on their religious beliefs/lack of them, judging them based on assumptions about said beliefs/lack thereof, attempting to derive what they believe from external evidence, etc.

People do what they do for many reasons, often multiple reasons at the same time. In my opinion, it's not really legitimate to pry behind the veil between what's public (their actions: discuss away!) and their private motivations unless they consent to it.

#427 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 04:49 AM:

...and since I'm still here, rather than doing what I should be (which is, by a bizarre coincidence, given the earlier direction of this thread, grading a pile of late papers on Mill's views on freedom of speech in which the Danish cartoon controversy crops up surprisingly frequently), some thoughts about Teresa's initial puzzle.

I say there's nothing particularly puzzling, going on here, for reasons a little bit like kid bitzer's (kid - thanks for directing me to that Valve post, btw). But here's another way of coming to the same conclusion.

Here it is. There's nothing especially puzzling about the idea of a *purely verbal* representation of M in a bear suit. (if you'll excuse me*) I mean to say, if someone wants to narrate in words the plot of the South Park episode , leaving out any mention of its being a cartoon, no-one can ask - was it really M. It is so because of the story tellers fiat.

So now think of the pictures in the cartoon as commentary on the words. They refer to what they refer to because of what the words refer to.

(I should probably say that i'm not entirely happy about this account, because it seems, counter-intuitively to make words far more fundamental than they ought to be to what seems to be at root a pictorial form of strory-telling. But there you go.)

*: something that no-one has mentioned here, and which hadn't occurred to me until someone brought it up in an entirely unrelated context, and which may be worth brıngıng up for future reference, are cultural sensitivities about depicting any human being as an animal. Hence the apology, in case anyone was wondering.

#428 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 04:56 AM:

abi at 426: I've just cross-posted with you, and I'd like to go away and think about what you've just said, rather than responding it to it right now. I hope that's OK. (And it's OK if you'd rather I didn't respond to it, either at all, or just not here, not now - please say so if that's the case)

#429 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 05:00 AM:

No, come to think of it, I didn't mean 'please say if that's the case'. I meant: 'If you feel that its necessary to say so, I won't take offense.'

#430 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 05:07 AM:

Feel free to reply, or not as you wish.

I'd particularize my last sentence: In my opinion, it's not really legitimate to pry behind the veil between what's public (their actions: discuss away!) and their private motivations unless they consent to it.

There are some contexts where it is legitimate to speculate, but I'm not entirely sure of or comfortable with the lines between them and the things that make me deeply squirmy. I think that public people (who have chosen to be public, rather than had it thrust upon them) are subject to more scrutiny than private people, as are powerful people in comparison to relatively powerless ones.

But it's certainly my strong belief that religion, faith, spirituality, and/or belief in/lack of belief in the Numinous in whatever form is a private matter unless and to the extent that it is disclosed by the subject of the conversation.

#431 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 05:33 AM:

OK, then. But in any case, not now.

#432 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 05:38 AM:

That's OK. I need to finalize an order with some guy named Joe. I gather he does gift-wrapping. And it's a day suitably unencumbered by religious associations, so it wouldn't be an imposition of my metaphysical beliefs on anyone to send a small, thoughtful gift.

Must also locate a full-length mirror to add to the bundle. Because the recipient doesn't appear to own one.

Yes, I'm thoughtful and generous that way. I don't feel inclined to explain why, however. You'll just have to accept it as it is.

#433 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 05:51 AM:

it's a day suitably unencumbered by religious associations.

The martyrs of Corfu, along with St. Agapius, and St. Wilfrid the Younger, would no doubt beg to disagree.

http://www.catholic.org/saints/f_day/apr.php

#434 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 05:58 AM:

@427--

praisegod, i'm glad if i helped in any way at all, but i think the person who linked to a valve post was mark_w. in 347.

#435 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 07:56 AM:

Allan Beatty @ 420: "Just like we do with the NT" Fine: that's your holy texts (grin). The OT is ours - which Christians claim is no longer relevant, since Jesus's teachings... until they want to use it to beat someone over the head with.*

Seriously, if Christians are being given the idea by fire-and-brimstone preachers that the Jewish God is all about smiting and being quick to punish, I find that a problem - it's in basic contrast to the Jewish idea of our God as a God of compassion and mercy, so is not going to lead to a lot of inter-religious understanding. And if repeated enough, it comes across as being, at the least, deliberate misinformation. At the same time, Christians misquoting from Jewish religious writings does not help me to feel charitable towards Christians.

* Some Christians. I'm not tarring all with the same brush here.

--------------
Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) @ 415: I love the Delameter!

#436 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 08:26 AM:

abi, heresiarch, OtterB, Xopher: Splitters!

#437 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 08:32 AM:

abi et al ... I'm thinking about abi's points about when it is and isn't appropriate to speculate and/or directly ask about another's encounters with the Numinous. Agree that being a public figure changes the ground rules somewhat. Having chosen to feature one's religious beliefs (of any stripe) as part of one's public identity also changes the ground rules.

Tangentially, I think it's important to have safe spaces where these things can be discussed. I think more people encounter the Numinous than are willing to discuss it. They don't discuss it because they fear (justifiably) being treated like a fanatic, a loony, a prophet, a fraud ... like anything other than a rational human being trying to process an experience outside normal expectations. And they are deeply reluctant to have their luminous experience scuffed, ridiculed, and spat upon.

I can't tell you how surprised I was to discover a streak of mysticism in myself. But that is, perhaps, a discussion for another time.

#438 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 09:21 AM:

Speaking of obnoxious traits, someone on another forum far from here has this way of trying to extrapolate from anything you say. If you say you like yellow better than green, then he deduces your feelings about bimetallism and demands that you take responsibility for them, showing a mind-numbing chain of logic that presumes some kind of unified field theory of feelings and opinions. I mostly avoid his corner of the playground by turning away when I start noticing skulls on the ground, but you never know when he'll decide to expand his domain.

#439 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 10:10 AM:

Bruce Cohen#415: What do you use to map people's internal beliefs to their actions? How do you establish the particular part of a person's actual belief system (as opposed to the one they profess) that maps to a particular action?

I can't distinguish between someone's actual belief system and what they profess to believe - hell, I'm lucky if I can disentangle that with regards to my own mind. I do not, and cannot, have a problem with someone's private beliefs. I can only engage with someone's actions and with their professed beliefs.

I have a comment to make about organised religion rather than individual belief. A religion formalises a set of professed beliefs and proscribes how its members should behave. Historically, such organisations have been powerful and have also proscribed the behaviour of non-believers by influence on the secular legal system*. That, to me, is the reason secularists of all stripes should worry about the beliefs of the faithful.

I'd like to argue that religious beliefs should not be priveleged over any other sort of thought - reading the thread, I'm not sure anybody is suggesting that they should, but I wanted to point out why, as a secularist, I am concerned about the religious beliefs of others.

I recently read the opinion that the only alternative to secular is sectarian*; once you express a complex belief in the nature of God you necessarily oppose systems incompatible with that belief. The formulation is too pat for me to accept wholeheartedly, but there's some truth there.

I apologise for moving in the wrong direction from the shiny.

*In reference to the legal challenge to the US "National day of prayer"

#440 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 10:40 AM:

Jacque@417: Well, depends on the environment. If I run into somebody at a music party, I probably don't learn a thing about their philosophical positions any time soon. If I encounter them in the midst of a philosophical discussion on Usenet, though, I do. Also, people frequently mention it in political discussions, at least some people (who identify strongly with a named philosophical positions; Objectivists, Libertarians, and Christians-by-which-they-mean-fundamentalists, mostly).

#441 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 10:52 AM:

dcb @ 414: "using the OT to preach fire & brimstone seems inappropriate."

I can see where you're coming from, and couldn't disagree with it--you know your teachings much better than I do--and could go one better by saying that there was a lot about my church that was inappropriate. Its full extent is still revealing itself to me.

"Also, it worries me that, if that's what Christians think about the OT and the OT God, that might also be the impression they have of what Judaism is about?"

On reflection I realize that I don't know if that's what Christians (in general) think about the subject, though you've made me see that I was making the assumption that I did. And I wish I hadn't made that assumption: it was based on my own idiosyncratic experience and I can see that it's also offensive. I'm sorry for that.

There's a Pratchett quote that came to mind, which I had to look up just now: "William wondered why he always disliked people who said 'no offense meant.' Maybe it was because they found it easier to say 'no offense meant' than actually refrain from giving offense."

I had the idea, before this discussion, that I had given my background quite enough thought. Perhaps my background is fractal in nature, or perhaps I'm not very thorough in my thought. It's good to have realized that. Thank you.

#442 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 11:06 AM:

I am kind of curious as to why Abi objects to "disorganized religion," whatever that may be.

#443 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 11:10 AM:

LDR @442:
I am kind of curious as to why Abi objects to "disorganized religion," whatever that may be.

Hippie childhood.

I think, on reflection, that it was an unfair statement, and I withdraw it and apologize to anyone I offended.

#444 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 11:26 AM:

johnofjack @441 Perhaps my background is fractal in nature This is a nice turn of phrase for an important issue. We are complex people, with complex motivations, interacting with a complex world. I also have found that when I think I'm through unpacking the influences on a decision or an opinion, there may still be a whole new level that needs to be considered. I think it's a feature of the examined life, not a bug.

I also find that these discussions on ML are excellent at raising implicit assumptions to the tacit level so I can think about them.

#445 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 11:28 AM:

"I belong to no organized political party -- I'm a Democrat." -- Will Rogers

#446 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 11:34 AM:

My own @444 raising implicit assumptions to the tacit level

That should, of course, have been raising either implict or tacit assumptions to the explicit level.

Except that explicit assumptions sound like they should be NSFW.

#447 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 11:41 AM:

Another kind-of important idea from this discussion, and in particular Teresa's partial disemvowelment of a post:

If you're discussing anything, you should try to be polite and interesting and say something new. But this is especially important if you're discussing some topic where offense is especially easy to give or receive. Blanket dismissals of other peoples' deeply-held beliefs are sometimes a part of stating your own beliefs, and are necessary--but it's worth going to some extra trouble to avoid being more hurtful than you have to be.

Two additional complications:

a. Topics that are hard to discuss get discussed less often, and the participants have to spend more of their limited mental energy on avoiding giving offense and calming down upset participants, which means those topics get less useful mental energy applied to them in discussion.

b. Some people have adopted a policy of loudly taking offense on specific topics, as a strategy for pushing discussions a certain direction or suppressing some inconvenient discussions.

You can see both of these at work by simply reading the newspapers for a week or two.

#448 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 11:53 AM:

abi @443: Hippie childhood.

I have a friend who describes filling out a survey in her elementary school. One of the questions asked her religion*. She wrote in 'pagan', because she remembered her dad describing their family as a bunch of pagans.


* You can tell our story takes place in the past. I doubt such a survey would be allowed in an elementary school class now.

#449 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 11:54 AM:

abi @443 on disorganized religion & hippie childhood: Even though my own spiritual beliefs are an eclectic and entirely self-selected creation, I dislike the term "New Age" and I can understand why some people think making up your own beliefs is not a "real" religion.

Of course, the discussion upthread about the difference between Christian and Jewish interpretations of what Christians call the "Old Testament" is just one example of the ways in which everyone picks and chooses what to believe.

(And I'm not offended, even though I can't honestly say that I share your preference for organized religion. Having seen you in action here, I'm encouraged to hope that this statement doesn't offend you.)

#450 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 12:01 PM:

abi @426 My concern about ddb's assertion was that it might mean that he thought it was OK for him to pry into Jacque's relationship with the Numinous, or speculate about it without Jacque's consent.

Let's see if I can express this in an intelligible fashion: I took ddb's 389 to be generally practical in nature. In situations where I might, for example, cast a vote regarding his legal right to own firearms, it would be helpful to him to know if I'm likely to vote in a way that supports his view. If so, all well and good.

If not, his desire to persuade me to his viewpoint will be informed by his understanding for the reasons behind my view. If my position is entirely practical, he can offer me logical, factual reasoning to change my mind.

If, however, my position is spiritual/moral, this requires a substantially different, and probably more nuanced, approach to persuading me. If, in his view, persuasion even seems to be an option. If not, then his efforts are probably better spent in garnering greater support for his position at the polls.

But, in either case, a better understanding of, or at least informed speculation about, my beliefs and where they come from become foundation for his decisions about strategy.

And this seems to me to be an entirely reasonable concern on his part.

#451 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 12:06 PM:

johnofjack @ 441: Good to see your post - glad my musings haven't driven you away. And just to be clear - you haven't offended me. It was more an eyes-rolling, "oh no, not again"* - and I decided to say something about it**. Offensive would have been you insisting that your interpretation of the OT and view of Judaism (learned from your church) was correct and refusing to accept any other interpretation, even if I pointed you towards lots of appropriate sources/examples.

I'm really glad we've been able to have this conversation. It's made me separate out my reactions (as indicated @ 414), which is good. If it's helped you to query some assumptions as well - and maybe to have a different (I hope, better and more accurate) understanding of Judaism, that's great. Another facet of Judaism is an emphasis on learning and asking questions (originally, of studying the Torah, but this has broadened out to encouraging studying and learning in general).

As for whether it is indeed what Christians in general think - we'll have to get input from other Christians. I suspect that you're not alone, that, unfortunately, there's a lot of misunderstanding.

Sympathies for what was, it appears, an unfortunate church to be raised with.

*And I'm not a bowl of petunias.

** Since it was in a forum where I could actually reply - I nearly bit through my lip a while back to keep from challenging a pastor/minister (sorry, not sure of the right phrase for the relevant denomination) at a christening I attended, when he quoted from the OT out-of-context and I was bursting to say "hold on a minute, you've got that all wrong! What it actually says is..."

#452 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 12:07 PM:

Carrie S. @436: abi, heresiarch, OtterB, Xopher

Lumper!

#453 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 12:19 PM:

dcb @ 451: Another facet of Judaism is an emphasis on learning and asking questions (originally, of studying the Torah, but this has broadened out to encouraging studying and learning in general).

I've been lurking on this conversation -- as a secular Jew of Reform heritage, I'm not inclined to join a debate on religion -- but I just wanted to thank you for pointing this out with respect to the general emphasis of Judaism. This is one of the things I've been talking to my son about, as my Ex has enrolled him in confirmation class (she is a Methodist) and he is currently not sure of his religious feelings. I am not surprised that he may be going through a "crisis of faith", since he'd been taught fairly early in Sunday school that prayer worked and I'm sure he's praying for things to change away from the existing disruption. If I were a person of faith, I'd use this as a different kind of teaching moment.

Anyway, I've encouraged him to listen in his confirmation classes and to ask questions -- and then I warned him that the teachers might not want to answer his questions; in which case he should bring them home and we would discuss them together. I told him I thought he should read the bible and learn as much as he could, even if he felt that this was no longer meaningful to him.

This is where I pointed out to him that Judaism is about asking questions and reading the source material. The emphasis that I've garnered from their church (and others) is that faith is based upon believing, not upon questioning -- although I don't dispute that people do question things and find answers in their religion.

So far, he has not reported any burning questions or any problems in general, although he hasn't really been doing the homework for that class. I haven't had the heart to make him do more homework when he's already doing daily homework for school and for Scouting.

#454 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 12:24 PM:

Rob Rusick @ #448:

I am reminded of an anecdote (not belonging to anyone I know personally; probably I saw it in Reader's Digest or something) about a child being asked if its parents drank alcohol, and, recalling that they never touched the stuff but once a week at communion, replying that they drank religiously.


everybody, generally:

May I say how glad I am that this thread has found its way back into proper Fluorospherian territory?

#455 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 12:32 PM:

LDR @449:
I can't honestly say that I share your preference for organized religion. Having seen you in action here, I'm encouraged to hope that this statement doesn't offend you.

I can't think of a single reason why it would.

#456 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 12:54 PM:

Ginger @453: Two thoughts. First, for Bible study.

Second: he'd been taught fairly early in Sunday school that prayer worked

FWIW, here's the algorithm I've developed for effective prayer: 1. Instead of praying for X to happen, I pray, "What can I do to get X to happen?" Then, 2. Watch for answers. Everywhere. It's eery how often stuff shows up on TV or in whatever book I'm reading that's directly pertinent. (Also people discussion their own situations. ML is a great source, for example.) (Nb: I do occassionally get a direct answer, right there inside my own skull. Very spooky when it happens.)

#457 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 01:13 PM:

abi @ 426 & elsewhere

I have a quick clarifying question, by speculation here are you specifically talking about speculating aloud or in print and in public? Or are you also including private conversational speculation that is never going to come to the attention of the speculatee, and/or speculation that never leaves the head of the speculator?

The reason I ask is that to me those would seem to be three very different things, and I honestly can't imagine not speculating about what makes other people tick, which is almost inevitably going to include speculating about peoples' beliefs since those are such a big part of so many peoples' lives and motivations. Basically, I'm interested in people* and when I see a behavior, especially one that doesn't immediately make sense to me, I more or less automatically create a model for what might be driving that behavior. In some cases, church-going for example, the best way to make models that make sense of a given behavior is going to include speculations on religious beliefs.**

I saw DDB's comments in that context as well as the practical one of wondering how one should interact with other people in a politial context, which imho is a related model-building exercise.

*Both personally as a social creature, and professionally as someone who tries to create believable characters as part of writing novels.

**The speculation could simply be, is this a religiously driven behavior? A socially driven behavior? A mix of the two? Something I don't completely understand?

#458 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 01:18 PM:

I've personally come to believe that I can't answer, to my satisfaction, whether there is a God or not. With a little work, I might even be able to demonstrate that in a Godelian sense, it's an undecidable question (since it refers with only slight indirection to itself, around such issues as creation). This doesn't mean that I don't think other people can, will, and possibly should (for their own definitions of should) believe differently. It doesn't mean that they can't know the truth, and possibly even be correct that what they know is in some sense objectively true. I do know that not everyone who believes religiously can be objectively correct simultaneously.

So I've mostly stopped worrying about it and just ask questions sometimes. I'm not a candidate for conversion at this time.

And I'm very interested in trying to develop a good moral (and ethical) sense, as that's about "living now" and caring for my friends as if they are as real as I am.

#459 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 01:23 PM:

as if they are as real as I am

<grin>

#460 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 01:24 PM:

Kelly@457, Jacque@450: Certainly general understanding and general interest in how people tick (it's more interesting to me because it's largely opaque to me) factors in. Philosophy influences everything :-). And yes, sometimes it's relevant tactically, socially, for purposes of etiquette, and so forth; very broadly useful.

#461 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 01:26 PM:

Jacque @ 456: Thanks for the link -- and the input.

#462 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 01:41 PM:

Kelly @457:

It's inevitable that people will speculate about others in private conversation and in their own thoughts. In theory, if the person discussed doesn't hear about it, I guess you could say there's no harm done, apart from the usual effects of gossip*.

My discomfort arises when it becomes a matter of public discussion. It just seems...intrusive. I know that if I stumbled upon such a discussion that others had been having about me, which speculated about my beliefs in more depth than I'd expressed them in public, I'd probably feel pretty embarrassed and awkward. Squicked. Depending on how far off the mark they were, I might feel distressed or upset as well.

Is this really so odd? Do other people regard religious belief† as such public property? It seems to me to default to private unless revealed. In this it's like, say, the inner content of my marriage, or my friendships.

-----
* Which is not to say gossip is universally harmless, but it is at least within the ordinary course of human affairs.
† Which may or may not overlap with membership of a religious institution

#463 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 01:54 PM:

abi @ 462

Thanks! And no I don't think that's an odd position at all. It just wasn't clear to me from the way you were talking about speculation what exactly you meant for boundary conditions.

#464 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 02:06 PM:

ddb @ 460: "Philosophy influences everything :-)."

In my experience, it's more the other way around--more people pick the philosophy that accords with their material views than vice-versa. Which is part of what puzzles me about your stance: all this stuff is far more inter-causal than people's "I believe X because of Y" narratives let on. If someone has constructed a chain of reasoning linking metaphysics to politics, the metaphysics end of things isn't any more likely to be the real heart of things than the politics, nor is it by any stretch of the imagination the most subject to rational argument.

#465 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 02:38 PM:

Ginger @ 453: You're welcome. Yes, I find that aspect of Judaism - the fact you're supposed to think particularly attractive. You're in a delicate position wrt your son and his religious teaching - although it sounds like you're being very sensible and non-judgemental about it all.

I'm now finding it interesting to think about where exactly I got my teachings from. By which I mean, where I found the Judaism I try to live - the one based around the things I mentioned upthread @ 377 & 385 - without, at present, any particular faith in the existence of God.

So, it probably came initially from the Reform prayer books (Shabbat and High Holy Days), with all their old and recent commentary on the Torah and other books of the Bible, and the bits in the Seder book and so on. Then I got involved in the Progressive* Jewish Students for the whole period I was studying at university (nearly ten years, what with the veterinary degree and the PhD), and we had weekends with lots of discussions on various aspects. And I read a number of books about Judaism and Jewish belief.**

When I was reading the Bible (OT), I had the advantage of the commentaries (particularly the commentaries on the Torah), and the Reform viewpoint that while the books may have been inspired by God, they were written by men - who are fallible, and prone to copying errors and so on (have you ever read Chaim Potok's "The Chosen?), and a general recognition that thinking and questining was good, as was setting aside the irrelevant (temple rituals etc.) and outdated (quarantine and burning of clothes as the only means to control infection), while keeping the universal (justice and kindness and so on). And I had the example of e.g. our Rabbi, whose sermons tended to be on social issues and relevant national and international politics. And personal examples of how to live a good life, from various adult parental figures and others.

And apologies if this has been rather rambling and too much information.

But it's rather fitting that this conversation is going on in and around the one about discussing beliefs and what should be private etc.

* Reform and Liberal, in the UK, about equivalent to Conservative and Reform in the USA, as I understand it.

** If you want, I could give you a couple of titles you might find useful to have around?

#466 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 02:50 PM:

LDR #449: and others, regarding "disorganized" vs. "organized religion":

I've previously discoursed upon the tension (and oscillation) between Promethean and Jovian forms of religion.

#467 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 03:02 PM:

heresiarch #464: I agree, and I'd further go on to say that people use whatever religious texts they have available to justify their own moral set. Bringing in dcb #465, I'll add that people's moral sets come from a combination of their temperaments and their upbringing (and sometimes, later life experiences). This, of course, falls squarely under the usual pattern of: ("nature" + "nurture") / "time" = "development".

#468 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 03:30 PM:

heresiarch@424: I think we may have to just agree to disagree on this bit. But I will note that essentially all traditions seem to emphasize the importance of raising a child with the "right" values. This can be cited, I think, by both of us as evidence our view is right, but at least it's an important question :-).

#469 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 03:33 PM:

you see, i just decided to eliminate the middle man a while ago, and treat all of my own opinions as canonical and inspired.

and indeed, that they *are* canonical and inspired, is clearly evident and cannot be denied, for so it sayeth in the first book of bitzer.

#470 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 03:41 PM:

David Harmon @ 467: "people's moral sets come from a combination of ..." I agree. My husband and I have discussed on many occasions how people brought up in the same household - me and my siblings, him and his sibling, sets of my cousins etc. - can nevertheless have very different attitudes and views of what's important in life.

And then you choose/filter the appropriate religious stuff (or not, if you're atheist, say) - generally, what you've been exposed to , i.e. the religion you grew up with; sometimes a different religion.

#471 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 03:50 PM:

Russ @ 439:
I can't distinguish between someone's actual belief system and what they profess to believe - hell, I'm lucky if I can disentangle that with regards to my own mind. I do not, and cannot, have a problem with someone's private beliefs. I can only engage with someone's actions and with their professed beliefs.

Which is what I was trying to say by pretending to be Socrates and asking questions. Yes, my creating a mental model of your belief system might allow me to better predict what your reactions will be in a given situation, but the odds of that model being at all accurate are pretty low. Even if I base the model on what you say your beliefs are, that's rarely an accurate reflection of the beliefs you actually act on¹.

once you express a complex belief in the nature of God you necessarily oppose systems incompatible with that belief

ISTM that the nature of God involves levels of reasoning and understanding of exotic concepts far beyond the ability of human beings to do it well; being able to tell when two belief systems are incompatible is difficult if not impossible. Granted they can't all be simultaneously true, but determining which sets of beliefs might be simultaneously true is more than I think mortals are capable of.

Tom Whitmore @ 458:
With a little work, I might even be able to demonstrate that in a Godelian sense, it's an undecidable question

I agree for other reasons as well. Mostly, I think there's no general consensus on what we mean by "God"; even just on this thread I bet we'd have a wide range of definitions. Proving anything about an entity which transcends everything we can know ("omnipotent and omniscient") is very different from proving something about an entity which is merely(!) vastly superior to us in power and knowledge.

When I was younger I spent quite a bit of time looking for ways to tease some basic moral tenets out of secular science: the nature of evolution, population ecology, etc. I wasn't successful in finding absolute rules, but I found some very suggestive trends, especially in the theory of the evolution of cooperation, and the realization that cooperation is at least as common as predation among biological organisms. But that fit in with what I was hoping to find in the first place, so I've accepted it. I suspect that if I were a hardline "red in tooth and claw" social darwinist that I coud find backing for that, but my personal opinion is that I would have to ignore much more of what we know about the world than I do with my current position.

¹ I'm not implying that the difference between internal beliefs and professed beliefs is the result of hypocrisy, just that IME humans' access to their own internal processes is highly unreliable. At least that's true for me by introspection², and is the professional opinion of my son the clinical psychologist.
² In itself a highly unreliable technique.

#472 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 03:56 PM:

I was reading a review of Stephen Prothero's book,
God is Not One which examines the eight major religions "that run the world". He says that each religion attempts to solve a different human problem.

–Islam: the problem is pride / the solution is submission
–Christianity: the problem is sin / the solution is salvation
–Confucianism: the problem is chaos / the solution is social order
–Buddhism: the problem is suffering / the solution is awakening
–Judaism: the problem is exile / the solution is to return to God

http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780061571275/God_Is_Not_One/index.aspx

#473 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 04:04 PM:

all hail bitzer!

#474 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 04:08 PM:

I make hymns and sing them; and in making hymns
I laugh and weep and mumble: thus do I praise Bitzer.
With singing, weeping, laughing, and mumbling do I praise the Bitzer
who is my Bitzer.* But what dost thou bring us as a gift?

* There is no Bitzer but Bitzer and Bitzer is His messenger.

#475 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 04:13 PM:

David Harmon @379

MacAllister #376: If this is only happening in the "last year or so", but it's "years after [you] rejected religion"... perhaps you're actually converting frustration or hurt from another part of your life?

Actually, I think it's far more likely that my growing anger is a consequence of being queer in a culture where semi-hysterical anti-queer rhetoric gets a lot of media play, and much of that rhetoric originates from religiously-affiliated groups of various stripes. I'm just usually more rational than to develop a broad-brush aversion based on a few specific ugly anecdotes.

Jacque @388

MacAllister @376: This is a very strange thing: I find that most of the evangelism I encounter lately is of the atheist school. Very odd. Seems almost like a contradiction. And since religion, specifically, and spirituality, generally are matters of subjective experience and not amenable to empirical proof, I find attitudes like 251 above to be particularly perplexing.

That sounds a bit like the flip-side of what I tried so clumsily to express earlier: increasing anger and polarization that doesn't bode well for people who aren't particularly inclined towards introspection -- and polarization seems most often fed by people who are increasingly convinced of their rightness and their entitlement, atheist or otherwise.

abi @424 (and other places)

But there are also people who are so emotionally involved in these matters that, knowing such a discussion is going on in a community, they're going to get sucked in and then be wretched. And space has to be made for that tendency (pace JHD), because this is a community, and our conversations and relationships are interwoven.

Yes. And as an example of this: part of why it took me so long to respond to David Harmon's gently-phrased suggestion was needing to ponder whether or not I wanted to deal with dragging up the whole gay thing, whether I had the energy and the attention to honestly engage with the conversation and community, and the inclination to examine the workings of my own heart, in public.

I'd imagine that consideration is, more or less, behind most of the posts people make in a community with a high degree of engagement with topics like religion, ethics, the numinous, or anything else that's similarly fraught.

#476 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 04:26 PM:

@473, 474--

look, you've got it all wrong! you don't need to follow me. you don't need to follow anybody! you've got to think for yourselves! you're all individuals!

#477 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 04:34 PM:

Steve C. @472 -- why does the book claim to be about 8 religions and only list 5 in its discussion? (This is more a question for the publisher's publicity department than it is for you....)

#478 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 04:39 PM:

@477

dysarithmatism: the problem is that 5 ≠ 8/ the solution is 5 = 8 !

#479 ::: DonBoy ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 04:41 PM:

–Sc**nt*logy: the problem is you have too much money / the solution is give it here

#480 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 04:46 PM:

kid bitzer@576: Yes! Yes! We are all individuals!

#481 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 04:52 PM:

dcb @465 (and others) I find that aspect of Judaism - the fact you're supposed to think - particularly attractive.

I'm realizing that my knowledge of Judaism is extraordinarily spotty. I know some history. I have read most of the OT/Hebrew Scriptures. I had a work colleague who kept kosher. My kid went to day camp at the Jewish Community Center a couple of summers. ;-) But I don't have much feel for how the religious practice works out in day-go-day life, interior or exterior. What it means, the core values it inculcates.

Of course, it's not like you could get a single answer to that for Christianity either, which is one of the reasons discussion on the subject is often fraught. But I could identify a few books that represent my engagement with it.

Some years ago I had wandered away from active Christianity (of the Episcopalian and later Catholic flavor), and one of the things that re-engaged me was a priest whose homilies always explored some piece of scripture with an eye to where that came from, or how it fit with other things. It was such an enormous relief to be encouraged to *think* in church. I'd usually gotten the impression that one was supposed to check one's brain at the door and actively suppress doubts or questions. Which didn't work so well for me.

#482 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 05:01 PM:

ddb @ 480: yes! thank the great bitzer for his or possibly her gift of individuality! let us show our thanks by eschewing all capital letters in imitation of our great prophet!

#483 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 05:35 PM:

@474: Heretic!! Anyone knows that bitzer is Lower Case. Bitzer is but a fraud! A pretender, I say!

@476: I think I'll follow bitzer.

#484 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 05:40 PM:

ddb @480

I'm not.

#485 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 05:43 PM:

You should all be unique, just like me!

#486 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 05:50 PM:

kid bitzer @476: If I could walk that way, I wouldn't need the talcum powder.

#487 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 05:52 PM:

There ought to be some segue from "Follow the gourd" to "out of their gourd" available somewhere around here. Or maybe something could be done with "out of their sandal"? Hmmm; "off their sandal"?

#488 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 06:05 PM:

MacAllister @475: dragging up the whole gay thing

Which is one of the classes of questions that come up in my interpretation of what ddb was saying. Knowing how to effectively talk (or not) to someone (about a fraught topic in particular) requires having some sense of where they're coming from and what their belief system around that topic is.

And the hell of it is, it's not like one can just not talk about it, which is my usual default response. If it never gets talked about, then people who are habitually shut out of the mainstream never have a way in.

Argh! heresiarch got there first, and I didn't notice.

kid bitzer @478: for very large values of 5, of course.

DonBoy @479: You owe me a keyboard.

abi @484:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I'm schizophrenic,1
and so am I.

Bruce Cohen @485: Why am I having this sudden flashback to the '70s?

1 Yes, yes, MPD, I know, but it doesn't scan right.

#489 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 06:36 PM:

I think an important concept in conversations like these is intersubjectivity.* Intersubjectivity (for the purposes of this conversation*) is an ontological state describing some knowledge that is shared between two or more individuals’ subjective experience. There is I think a very good argument that this is by definition impossible to achieve, but let’s set that aside for now and at least put it out there as an ideal, properly aetheric and unattainable. I find intersubjectivity to be a nice, meaty concept filling that vast space between the claustrophobia of subjectivity and mock passionlessness of objectivity. It evokes what’s going on when two people (try to) communicate a lot better than either of the above, I think.

If we think about communication as an attempt to weld together different subjectivities, it immediately suggests a lot of the problems that really do pop up in communication. How do I fit this lump of knowledge that originated in your experience into mine? Assuming I can even interpret your message correctly, do I trust you to deliver an accurate report of your experience? I think it breaks down into four general levels of acceptance.

Understand – I completely integrate this new information into my world-view.
Accept - While I can’t understand it, I accept that it is still a valid claim about reality.
Acknowledge - I don’t accept that you are making a valid claim about reality, but I do accept that you are accurately reporting your understanding and your experience.
Reject – I believe that you are mistaken or lying about your subjective experience.

The important thing is that the first two are exclusive: insofar as we all agree that there is one reality, there cannot be two competing claims about it that are both true. If it’s this way, it can’t be that way. If you’re right, then others are wrong. If the sender of the message demands that their conversational partners understand or at least accept their knowledge, communication becomes an act of aggression. Sometimes it’s justified and sometimes it’s not, but it’s always aggressive.

The third option, however, can accept an unlimited number of views in parallel. This makes it a nice, comfortable level at which to conduct a dialogue: we can all participate without having to worry that anyone is going to try to make us do or believe anything. On the other hand, no one’s mind is being changed.

I think an awful lot of conversational fail can be traced to participants disagreeing on what level of acceptance is appropriate to the conversation at hand. Party X demands that everyone accept the supremacy of claim Y, party Z is only willing to grant that it's true of party x's experience; etc.

Anyway.

*This is one of those words that a lot of people have derived independently and have their own idiosyncratic definition for. This is mine.

#490 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 07:41 PM:

"Let's go to the stoning."

#491 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 07:47 PM:

ddb #480, abi #484: Iduno, sometimes I think I'm a colonial organism.

MacAllister @475: Yeah, there have been some threads, even here, where I've entered slowly or not at all, because I doubted either my restraint, or my ability to handle the likely shrapnel from what I wanted to say.

Steve C. #472: Hmm. Where would Hinduism come in?

OtterB #481: My take on Judaism "as compared to others" is that the focus is on mitzvah (pl. mitzvot) -- literally "good deeds", but the concept combines both interpersonal acts (charity [tzedakah], good works, compassion, et al) and ritual observances (keeping kosher, keeping the Sabbath, blessings and prayer, studying the Torah, and so on). Different branches of Judaism seem to bias their view of mitzvah toward the inner or outer aspects -- this is one of the basic divisions between Orthodox and Reform Judaism, with the Conservative branch trying to chart a middle course.

heresiarch #489: Intersubjectivity... There is I think a very good argument that this is by definition impossible to achieve,

I beg to differ... both community-building and magical practice¹ deal heavily with such matters.

¹ Even solitary practice depends on responses which are surprisingly reliable across a broad swathe of humanity. Shamanism is particularly dramatic in this respect.

#492 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 07:52 PM:

Jacque @488

Knowing how to effectively talk (or not) to someone (about a fraught topic in particular) requires having some sense of where they're coming from and what their belief system around that topic is...If it never gets talked about, then people who are habitually shut out of the mainstream never have a way in.

Yep. And in turn, it puts a sort of insane amount of expectation on individual members of that mainstream to make heroic efforts to see and experience something outside their normal range of experience -- which seems unreasonable and unjust.

Part of the value of communities (and I notice it especially in online communities) is the creation of a space where people of widely different backgrounds and experiences are highly motivated to find ways to talk about those things, share experiences, and create commonality.

Because I never met an elaborate metaphor I didn't like, I'm reminded of being out walking with TNH and another east-coaster last fall, seeing something that interested me in the bushes on the verge of the road, and veering off to go examine said shiny object more closely. Teresa quite literally reached out and grabbed me by the back of my shirt, because I was about to go plunging into piles of poison ivy growing there. I'd never seen the stuff; I didn't grow up around poison ivy--had no idea what it was--and Teresa narrowly helped avert a potentially painful and uncomfortable experience that I might well have STILL not connected to the glossy and beautiful leaves I'd blundered through on the side of the road.

At our best as a community, we help each other (and newcomers) avoid the metaphorical poison ivy in conversations, identify the plant itself, and perhaps even learn to identify the places it's most likely to grow.

Where things break down as heresiarch @489 mentions:

I think an awful lot of conversational fail can be traced to participants disagreeing on what level of acceptance is appropriate to the conversation at hand.
is when we can't agree on what poison ivy actually is, or when the cynical or immune among us think it's funny to watch people blunder through it, or we refuse flatly to acknowledge the existence of any such thing, and insist on tromping boldly forward in spite of every warning sign....

And with that, I suspect I've tortured every last drop of goodness from the conversational poison ivy metaphor.

#493 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 08:00 PM:

Mac @ 492... I never met an elaborate metaphor I didn't like

You should have a t-shirt made with that on it.

#494 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 08:22 PM:

Serge@493
Mac @ 492... I never met an elaborate metaphor I didn't like

You should have a t-shirt made with that on it.

Life is a t-shirt with an interesting phrase on it.

#495 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 08:23 PM:

mjfgates @ 494: Or you could shorten it to "I never metaphor I didn't like."

#496 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 09:44 PM:

dcb @435: Seriously, if Christians are being given the idea by fire-and-brimstone preachers that the Jewish God is all about smiting and being quick to punish

I was given the same idea by reading the Torah in Hebrew school, so if Christians come to that conclusion, I have a hard time faulting them for it.

#497 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 09:49 PM:

dcb @465: It's all very helpful! I do tread carefully when it comes to religion, particularly since she may be in need of religious support -- and hasn't had it, due to church upheavals -- but also because that's a personal decision for him. My parents are a (1) atheist who grew up Irish Catholic and (2) agnostic Reform Jew, so neither of them worried about what my particular religion would be. They set a good example of practicing intellectual Judaism, if you will, along with the basic religious rituals from my grandparents and their siblings.

I did go to temple when I was young, but never paid much attention to the sermons. What I know has come from family conversations and behaviors.

I discovered existentialism in my high school English class, and felt the shock of recognition then. The rest of my wisdom has slowly accreted over the years since. I did read Potok's "The Chosen", and many other books - Andre Schwarz-Bart, "The Last of the Just", for example -- but it has been at least 20 years. I should read it again. Now would be a good time to rethink these topics. Thanks for the suggestion! (and if you have others to suggest, please feel free..)

#499 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 11:36 PM:

Allan: Beautiful!

#500 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2010, 11:41 PM:

heresiarch #489:

I think an awful lot of conversational fail can be traced to participants disagreeing on what level of acceptance is appropriate to the conversation at hand. Party X demands that everyone accept the supremacy of claim Y, party Z is only willing to grant that it's true of party x's experience; etc.

That's a really nice insight. I think it's fairly common to see a kind of feedback loop, where party X is arguing harder and harder with the idea that enough work will get party Z to accept claim Y. And sometimes, party Z doesn't even perceive this as an area where his acceptance of claim Y is on the table at all. It may be that the most he's even willing to consider is that it might be true of party X's experience, or perhaps that it might be possible for party X to believe it without being obviously crazy or evil.

#501 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2010, 12:00 AM:

I don't belong to an organized religion, I'm a Witch. (not original with me.)

And there are plenty of Pagan Goddesses and Gods who are portrayed partly or completely in animal form. Which is why portraying Mohammed as a bear is such a no-no: it's Pagan.

#502 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2010, 02:50 AM:

(not original with me.)

Last time I heard it, the last word was 'Anglican'...

And there are plenty of Pagan Goddesses and Gods who are portrayed partly or completely in animal form. Which is why portraying Mohammed as a bear is such a no-no: it's Pagan.

Aha. Thanks, that's illuminating.

#503 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2010, 06:45 AM:

Bruce Cohen#471: ISTM that the nature of God involves levels of reasoning and understanding of exotic concepts far beyond the ability of human beings to do it well; being able to tell when two belief systems are incompatible is difficult if not impossible.

In the abstract, I agree.

But when groups come up with rules for what God does and doesn't like, and work to get legislation passed based on their position, it gets a lot easier.

#504 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2010, 12:24 PM:

Jacque @488: "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. (I am schizophrenic; I contain multitudes.)"

#505 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2010, 12:30 PM:

albatross @500: I didn't pay enough attention to heresiarch's @489 the first time around, so thanks for highlighting it again. (And I have to say, heresiarch in particlar has been saying some very nifty stuff in this thread.)

And, yes, this rather precisely describes the failure mode when my Fundamentalist friend and I have tried to have conversations about religion.

Magenta Griffith @501: it's Pagan.

I think that's off by a couple-three logical levels. My understanding is that the objection is to portraying Mohammed at all. And the SP was not "portraying Mohammed as a bear." They were portraying him as a man in a bear suit. The whole question (as I get it) being does portraying him at all, even if you can't see him—and in fact it turns out not to be him at all—fall into this prohibition?

Kip: My daddy always said that talking to yourself is okay, so long as you get an intelligent answer.

#506 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2010, 04:25 PM:

Avram @496: I'm glad I didn't go to your Hebrew School! It's interesting. Somewhere I obviously grasped the idea that "that was then, this is now": that just because our history and mythology is full of fighting and smiting, doesn't mean that's the way to go.

What drew me back towards Judaism, in my late teens and onwards (after a period when it felt pretty irrelevant, and was just cultural - Seders, Chanukah etc.) was very much the social Judaism aspect (as indicated below).

OtterB: But I don't have much feel for how the [Jewish] religious practice works out in day-go-day life, interior or exterior. What it means, the core values it inculcates.

David Harmon @491 puts it quite succinctly*. I lean more towards the "interpersonal acts" side - social Judaism - than the ritual observances side. However, I recognise that for many more-Orthodox Jews, it's all part and parcel of the same thing, and they couldn't conceive of the one without the other - they are interwoven. It has also been said that it's not just the Jews who have kept the Sabbath, but the Sabbath that has kept the Jews - the rules and rituals help to keep a sense of separate identity and community. Unfortunately, there are also some who follow all the rituals and lose sight of the spirit of the whole thing.

In my understanding, our (Jews) being a "light unto the nations" is supposed to be about leading by example, about showing, by living it, that if you give charity (tzedakah, which also translates as "justice"), are fair in your dealings with others, and so on, life will be better, the community will prosper, everyone will be better off (happier, not just be better off in material terms). That's not to say we always succeed...

* Hillel (one of the great Jewish teachers) put it even more succinctly. Asked by a non-Jew to be taught the whole Totah while standing on one foot, Hillel replied, "Do not unto your neighbor what you would not have him do until you; this is the whole Law; the rest is commentary. Now go and learn."

#507 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2010, 06:11 PM:

Jacque 505:

I think you're missing something. Yes, there is a prohibition on images of the prophet. But there is (at least in the country I live, which is majority Muslim, at least by culture) a sense of general ickiness about portraying, or thinking of, human beings as animals, to the extent that if - as happened to me while teaching the other day - someone said to illustrate a point 'suppose you were a bear' - they would then feel it appropriate to say apologise for making such a supposition.

So then, two things. First, what Magenta said gives me some sense of what that general cultural prohibition might be about. And secondly - to some extent, it doesn't really matter who the guy in the bear suit turns out to be: the fiction is still inviting you to think of someone particularly special in a way that you shbouldn't think of any human being at all.

I don't, of course, think that's any excuse for death threats. And I don't have much time for the defense that 'its not a threat its a warning.'We'd give that short shrift in many other contexts. I can't see why we should be more charitable over it in this case.

(And to the extent that thbis has been, to some extent, an exercise in speculation - albeit, I hope,informed speculation - about other people's relationship with the numiknous, I'd be very unhappy with a fully general norm frowning on such activity. But I'm pretty sure that that's not the sort of thing abi wanted to rule out at 426. But I'm willing to be corrected on that, if I'm wrong.)

Also, in relation to 426 - having now reread 380-1 and also 251 for context, I can see why 381 wasn't intended to convey whatg I initially thought it was intended to convey. So sorry for chasing thyat red herring.

#508 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2010, 06:14 PM:

kid bitzer 434: you're right. Thanks mark_w.

#509 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2010, 02:36 AM:

praisegod barebones @507:

An interesting and useful comment, there. And no, what bothers me is prying into individual people's relationships with the Numinous without their consent.

And my botherations are personal, not qua moderator, anyway.

#510 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2010, 02:02 PM:

I'm glad people found 489 useful; it's a thought that I've been nibbling at since the Patrick Roscoe thread. I think incompatible acceptance expectations were heavily implicated in that fail. (I mention this to give people a chance to look at that conversation again in a cooler light, not to re-ignite whatever embers might remain.)

David Harmon @ 491: "I beg to differ... both community-building and magical practice¹ deal heavily with such matters."

Yes, which is why it's a problem that's useful to ignore most of the time--in our social life, intersubjectivity is a fact upon which much else is built. Still, it's worthwhile to remember from time to time that we're all trapped entirely within the limits of our skulls, and that however much we think we understand reality and the people in it, it's all just a model we've constructed inside ourselves.

albatross @ 500: Yes, "What kind of acceptance are you asking me for?" and "What kind of acceptance are you comfortable giving me?" are questions that it is occasionally important to bring to the surface.

#511 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2010, 01:49 AM:

praisegod barebones, #507: "[...] there is (at least in the country I live, which is majority Muslim, at least by culture) a sense of general ickiness about portraying, or thinking of, human beings as animals [...]"

That's fascinating. I suspect it's one of these deep cultural differences we mostly aren't aware of. Western European cultures come mostly from damp forests and fertile plains: animal references and comparisons go without saying and animals were, in formative times, neighbors. This isn't the case for the Arabian Penninsula or Persia, which are desert places, where animals were intense competitors.

And ravens, IIRC, are viewed as evil.

#512 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2010, 02:29 AM:

praisegod barebones @507: I think you're missing something.... general ickiness about portraying, or thinking of, human beings as animals

Wow. Uh, yeah. A big something.

That is so utterly bizarre. The culture I grew up in (mid-America) has the distinction between human an animal built in, but I have so thoroughly succeeded in eradicating that idea from my thinking that I just plain forget that other people still think that way. And beyond that, the idea that referring to someone "as if"* they were an animal being actively repugnant.

Wow. Boy, talk about slamming up against your conceptual limitations! <<WHANG-ang-ang-ang>>

I would need to be exceedingly careful in conversation with someone who holds that view. I think of myself as pretty open minded. Clearly I have some...contemplating to do.**

Wow.

*quotes because homo sap is clearly neither mineral nor vegetable.

**I hope it's clear here that I'm talking about my limitations.

#513 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2010, 02:30 AM:

Magenta @501: Which is why portraying Mohammed as a bear is such a no-no: it's Pagan.

This is a thing Sunni Muslims have actually said to you, or is it just conjecture on your part?

dcb @506, keep in mind that my description of my childhood impression of God-as-portrayed-in-the-Torah isn't a thing that was explicitly tight to me. That was just a conclusion I drew from the texts.

#514 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2010, 09:07 AM:

Avram #513: I'd have to say that your Hebrew school fell down on the job there... modern Judaism isn't based directly on the Torah¹, or even on the larger canon. The original texts have been enveloped in centuries worth of commentary, with the earlier work collected as the Talmud.

#515 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2010, 10:51 AM:

Yet many Muslims in our acquaintance are perfectly pleased to watch Mickey Mouse and cohorts in action.

I have heard some state that the classical era Romans found the animals and bird-headed Dynastic Egypt gods distateful because the gods came only in the images of man. As I'm no scholar in these matters there's no way I can flatly state this is true, considering that not elements of the numen of that era, such as the ones accompanying places and particularly bits of water and trees, were depicted in human form, or perhaps any form at all.

Love, C.

#516 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2010, 04:06 PM:

David Harmon, it wasn't just Avram's Hebrew school, it was mine as well. Perhaps it's a quirk of the Conservative approach, rather than a Reform or Orthodox one?

#517 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2010, 06:34 PM:

Rikibeth #516: Maybe, or perhaps they just didn't think it through. It's all very well to say "let the kids study the Torah from the beginning", but you also have to think about what lessons they'll take home. That's where the teachers come in -- they should be adding context, for example emphasizing that we're living in very different times, when we have better options than slaughtering our enemies. The tale of the Red Sea should be accompanied by the story about God chiding his angels for celebrating over it; "my creatures are perishing, and you rejoice?" Likewise, the point should be made that when God destroys a city, he's does it himself, in part so his followers should not have blood on their hands.

I've said before that people interpret their sacred texts in terms of their own moral set. But this can and should apply to communities as well -- we should be using the Torah as a tool for teaching our modern morality, not intimidating the kids with stories about how God blasts half our enemies, and gives us open season on the rest.

#518 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2010, 03:53 PM:

Me: #304:

I was wrong. The title of the anime wasn't "I Swear To God She's Eighteen." It was actually We Swear to God, She's 19 Years Old: Fetishtastic.

No, I'm not making that up.

Yes, there are screen captures.

No, you probably don't want to look.

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