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Frog on a cross! Or: The pope has no sense of humor

Posted in Left Coast Librul by Skepdude on August 29, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI may not know art, but he knows what he likes. And he doesn’t like this frog. For obvious reasons.

A reasonable person might just look at it, chuckle and roll their eyes. A reasonable person might see the whimsy and the message the artist was trying to convey. No one has ever accused Pope Benedict XVI of being a reasonable person.

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Jesus Took My Stuff

Posted in Skepchick by Skepdude on August 29, 2008

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When I was nine years old, my mother became a born-again Christian. This was a pretty common occurrence in the area in which I grew up, as most mothers didn’t work, and truthfully, boredom and depression would kick in. She met a member of a church whilst waiting for me at the school gates, got chatting, and was offered the secret to eternal happiness and fulfilment: Jesus.

The organisation turned out to be one of those Pentecostal happy clappy Church of Christ jobbies, an import from the USA and quite unlike the stiff upper lip Church of England services one usually had to endure at weddings and funerals. The minister and his wife were young, attractive and American, which to my young mind was the height of exotic. We were very poor, but the weekly tithe seemed a small price to pay for the revelation that Jesus loved us and would supply everything we need if we asked hard enough. Or, would move in mysterious ways, and that was also OK, cause who needed a new bike when you had eternal life?

I went to a couple of services and social events with my mom, found it fun and full of promise and soon made the very adult decision to also become a Christian. My sister and father followed suit, and we were all baptised in a heated swimming pool followed by a finger buffet and a round of ‘You Can’t Get To Heaven On Rollerskates’ accompanied by me on tambourine.

Fast-forward a year, and the gloss started to wear off as Jesus made his first claim on my possessions. I wasn’t materialistic, I was merely a kid, and I liked my stuff. As I mentioned, we were poor, so stuff was hard to come by and birthdays and Christmas were pretty much the only opportunities I had to add to my bounty of treasures. But, I did own the entire collection of

Jackson and Livingstone Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks

If you haven’t played these, starting with the masterpiece Warlock of Firetop Mountain, stop reading this and go and grab a copy from eBay. You must at least be familiar with the concept: a book in which you choose your own adventure. “You turn a corner and an Orc is standing in front of you! To hit him with your fist, turn to page eight. To throw a turd at him, turn to page 43″. Etc. Conceptually genius, and I had ‘em all. I even had the spinoff board game which cost me my entire birthday money. But, my mom started to express concerns that the books were ‘satanic’ in nature (well they did have demons and magic in them) and suggested that Jesus would not approve. After a sleepless night of asking Jesus (and some secret masturbation for which I prayed for forgiveness), I concurred, and the next day we built a bonfire and burned the whole lot, board game and all. I remember thinking that I was destroying something inherently evil. Then again, I was a small girl and not really in a position to tell evil from madness.

The second thing that Jesus took was

My great-grandmother’s mirror

Mirrors, as you know, are easily possessed by demons. At least, that was what we were told when I was 12 years old and my mirror, a bequest from my late great-grandmother, threw itself across the bedroom. Or rather, it fell off the wall. But our particular brand of Jesus-lovin’ was the hysterical paranoid sort and the mirror was deemed possessed and responsible for my recent spate of behavioural issues (nothing to do with being 12 years old and having just lost a parent, you understand. Demons did it). So, they exorcised the mirror, and yes, they exorcised me. I am sort of strangely proud of having been exorcised, as it was every bit as dramatic as you’re imagining. Unfortunately, even though it was then declared demon-free, the mirror was a source of fear for me and I threw it out immediately. Jesus claims another bit of my stuff.

The final thing that Jesus took was my copy of

The Demon Headmaster by Gillian Cross

This is a brilliant kid’s book, about a headmaster who uses his evil eyes to hypnotise an entire school into behaving well. I loved it, but once religion entered our household, my mom became very uncomfortable with the title and the subject matter. One day, I got home and the book was gone. My mom pleaded ignorance, citing a miracle. Jesus took it. I asked Jesus, via the power of prayer, and he told me that my mom probably threw it out. I still don’t know who to believe, frankly. The son of god, or the mother of me? One of them is a lying bastage. Either way, where’s my freaking book?

There were probably more things, but those are the three which have stuck in my mind, and which, as a rabid atheist, I resent more than 20 years later. Of course, this whole story is a fable about letting irrational beliefs and paranoia affect your judgement, but it’s also about how I have a score to settle with Jesus. He doesn’t know that the brownies I sent him are past their use-by-date…and that time I prayed for forgiveness for masturbating? HA! I DIDN’T MEAN IT!

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The strange case of the crucified frog

Posted in Rationally Speaking by Skepdude on August 29, 2008

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The Pope is angry. Benedict XVI has written a letter to the President of the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy (in the northeast, above Venice), Mr. Franz Pahl, to complain about an art exhibit at the local city museum. Pahl already had a problem with that same exhibit, and he went on a hunger strike during the summer, threatening not to seek reelection (oh boy!) if a particular statue was not removed by the museum curators.

The statue in question is entitled “Zuerst die Fuesse,” German for “First the Feet.” It is by artist Martin Kippenberger, who died in 1997 at age 43, and it represents a crucified frog holding an egg and a beer mug. Well, one can see how that might be offensive to the Pope and to Catholics in general, despite the museum’s reassurances that the sculpture has nothing to do with religion, and is instead an ironic self-portrait of the artist’s expression of angst.

Now, the frog may have been meant to represent Kippenberger (after all, he was German, and the frog holds a beer), but I don’t believe for a second that the sculpture has nothing to do with a criticism of religion. It is hard to imagine that Kippenberger was not thinking of Jesus when he crucified his frog and put a loincloth around its waist, or that he was simply not aware of Christian iconography.

But of course the point is that being offensive is no reason at all to censor art. Indeed, one could argue that the point of art is to challenge people’s perspectives, thereby carrying a high risk of being offensive. If the Pope and his Catholic flock don’t like it, they are by no means forced to go to the museum to see it. If Mr. Pahl doesn’t like it — just like then Major Giuliani of New York didn’t appreciate the “Virgin with Elephant Dunk” exhibited by the Brooklyn Museum a few years ago — he is most welcome to stop eating pasta and resign.

All of this should not, however, put the museum’s director in any kind of defensive position, trying to make up ridiculous explanations for why the art piece should not be offensive to one religious sect or another. I personally find the very existence of the Vatican state in the center of Italy and its seating (as an observer) at the United Nations offensive, but I am not calling for the thing to be shut down. I’m just waiting for a more enlightened world to come about, one where we don’t need sanctimonious “holy men” to tell us what to think, what art we can enjoy and how precisely we are supposed to have sex.

How would I feel if someone made an offensive caricature of whatever I hold sacred? Ah, but therein lies the difference between a religionist and an atheist: I don’t hold anything sacred. I do hold some things important, people I love and ideas I cherish, and I surely get upset when those people or ideas are under attack — especially unfair attack. But one of the foremost principles I do cherish is precisely the right of anyone, anywhere, at any time, to speak her mind, regardless of how offensive it may be to others. Being offensive to people may not be nice, and it is certainly something that can easily be abused even in the name of a good cause. But it is a fundamental right in a democracy, without which the very concept of freedom of speech goes out the window. And once that happens, fascism is not far behind.

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Richard Dawkins Cursing

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 29, 2008

Well reading out loud e-mails from various cooks that are cursing at him.