Thursday, September 27, 2012

Will Riot for Bad Movies (among other things)

No one is ultimately served by banning free speech. You do it for one group (for example Catholics who are riled up by an art exhibit), you have to do it for *all* groups--  Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Deists, Moonies, Satanists, Scientologists, Branch Davidians... If the government quashes critics of a certain religion because one religious group gets angry enough, then all the other groups can get to keep criticism away (all kinds of criticism, even the valid kind) by playing the same card.

At first glance, that might look appealing... until it's your group that gets shut down for giving what may be very valid criticism of another group. It's also a waste of effort, resources and tax money: what went to another crackdown due to religious raw nerves could have gone to a feeding program, or schools, or funds for nurses in the provinces.  

Don't get me wrong: I'm glad our local Muslims did not resort to pointless violence. It says a lot of good things about them and gives lie to the offensive stereotypes that some non-Muslims perpetuate. I just have trouble sleeping when something like this happens:



Yes, I'm talking about the film Innocence of Muslims, purportedly the cause of the protests (and violence) that's gripped the Muslim world in recent days. The two best terms I have to describe the brouhaha are: Comedy of Errors and For Want of Nail.

The court (or at least the MTRCB) could have simply looked at the movie for itself and condemned the half-assed clumsy depiction --and it is a half-assed clumsy depiction-- of Muslims therein, and then let it go. The grand irony is that the movie likely wouldn't have even been talked about (or heard of here) if Muslims overseas didn't overreact to it.

Yes, I'm painfully aware of what it feels like when your most cherished beliefs are insulted, and the Muslims are no strangers to having that happen to them (Especially local Muslims, some of whom have to pretend they're Catholics so they can get a decent shot at landing a job which would force them to violate their schedules of prayer and rest). That said, you can't keep lashing back at every insult that comes your way, regardless of size or scope, (or geographic distance) or else you'll waste your whole life playing whack-a-mole with enemies of the Prophet (SAW). Seriously, Dar al-Islam would be better served with roads, jobs, infrastructure and general prosperity, no? This game of whack-a-mole is a lot like Uncle Sam's wasteful game of whack-a-terrorist.

If the trailer is anything to go by, the movie is also an offense to cinema, not quite on par with Manos the Hands of Fate, but apparently close enough. No one, and I mean no one (or at least, no one sane), would ever take that movie as a serious depiction of Muslims.

I joke to my friends that some movies should be banned because they're godawfully bad, but I keep that at the level of jokes.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance

It was in late 2007 when I first encountered the Youtube debates between creationists and science advocates that facilitated my exodus from my former faith. It was a slow and painful thing, part of number of significant concurrent experiences that took the axe to the pillars of my ideas about life and the human condition.    

Prior to that, I'd been a weird flavor of Christian. Like so many of the weary, the lazy, and the cautious, I considered myself "spiritual." I held loosely to tenets of Catholicism that could be reconciled with the teachings of other faiths. If Godhead was allowing the existence of so many expressions of spirituality, I'd felt it was only right that I learn from as many of them that I could. Like a textbook syncretist, I took from those other faiths what made sense, what conformed to science and what appealed to my personal biases and leanings.    

While this isn't the venue to discuss just what exactly happened on my journey to non-belief, I am bringing up something that touches on it.

Today, I'm still a member of a Facebook group that grew out of the popular Taga UP Diliman Ka Kung... ("You're from U.P. Diliman If...") an online venue for University of the Philippines alumni looking to reconnect with the old alma mater. I share this particular Facebook sub-group, a "Seekers Forum,"  with my friend Sam, who is himself  a weird flavor of Christian, clinging to the tenets of Baptist Protestant Christianity that could be reconciled with other faiths, science and things that made sense to him and appealed to his biases and leanings.

This is a group that believes practically in all the weird hippie stuff that I swore off-- like the power of crystals, supernatural visitations, the Secret, among others-- when I decided to live my life without looking over my shoulder for spiritual boogeymen and waiting for them to okay or veto my every move and then to make the decision known through vague signs that can be host to a multitude of interpretations (Few people   know how liberating and how scary that is.).  

Seriously, what's a rationalist doing in a group of people who believe so fervently in so much new age silliness? I've been forced to ask myself that, even as I'm co-designing their shirts-- my shirts, now, because I'm still a member in good standing and I have little reason to want to leave the group. These are good people, whose ideas are worth  exploring, whose voices are worth listening to, even if I don't always agree with them. Say what you will about hippies being "rudderless," but I've seen fewer people who are into acceptance and support  as much as these people are and people like me need as much support as they can get.  (And mind you, these people are far from rudderless).

Finally, it's not silly... at least, all that new age silliness is not silly to the friends and peers who live by this stuff. You can't naively go to the marketplace, get on a soapbox, and yell into the milling crowd that everything they think they know is wrong.  I've been forced off the silliness (and belief in any personal god) by reason, discussion and evidence, and the journey to skepticism itself was painful, unwelcome and deeply personal. I could not have come to where I am if people were antagonistically yelling truth to my face. Someone put the idea out there, where I could find it, backed it up, and let me make up my own mind.

I suppose the journey of others will be like that as well and I can't make it for them.