Radical Atheism #01: The Church of the Friendly Apes

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Radical Atheism, the exciting new non-religion I’ve just made up, is the belief that a) there probably isn’t a god, an afterlife, or anything beyond the material, and b) that this has radical implications for the way we live and societies are organised.

Atheism implies an acceptance of the scientific understanding of the world, and how it, humanity, everything alive and everything full stop came about. Obviously, a lot of people can now tell you the basics of evolution, and they know that the universe wasn’t made in seven days four thousand years ago in some celestial Craig David video. But it’s clear from the way we continue to act that we haven’t really comprehended any of that at all.

Many religious accounts told people they were made by an all-seeing deity, and that life on earth was an extended afterlife-entrance exam. In secular society, not all that much has changed. Less people believe god made them and that heaven’s waiting for them than ever before, and life is now seen as a lovely theme park for their personal enjoyment rather than a test. But the idea that the individual is colossally important remains – arguably, it’s now even more prevalent, and not reined in by the moral compulsion to be compassionate that characterised religion at its best.

Mainstream atheism is shallow and individualistic. Often, it’s used as a sort of moral-philosophical Get Out Of Jail Free card: you’ve decided there’s no god, there’s no heaven, so you don’t have to worry about big ethical questions anymore. All that matters now is you – your life, your family, your career prospects. You’ve been issued your guilt-free hyper-individualism license by the universe, and can happily get on with buying things you don’t need and helping consume the planet to extinction. Continue reading “Radical Atheism #01: The Church of the Friendly Apes”

Even For Bible Scholars, Homophobia Is A Choice

The late Reverend Phelps
The late Reverend Phelps

News comes wafting over the pond that the Reverend Fred Phelps, authoritarian patriarch of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church (‘the most hated family in America’), has finally kicked the bucket aged 84.

Both Phelps and the Kansan-based cult he moulded over decades are best known for their fanatical hatred of homosexuality, although they also pour bile over Jews, Catholics, liberals, anyone to the left of Glenn Beck, and Barack Obama, who they’ve decided is the Antichrist.

While he could’ve made a lot more money as an anchor on Fox News, Reverend Phelps preferred to spend his time picketing the funerals of people he didn’t like. As evinced by his conduct during a long, hate-fuelled existence in the material realm, Fred Phelps disliked practically everyone – not just individuals who just happened to find members of the same rather than the opposite gender sexually attractive, but people who vocally supported gay rights, people who didn’t vocally condemn gay rights, homophobes who weren’t hard-core enough, and, in a particularly impressive feat of logical gymnastics, American soldiers, because they fought for a government that tolerated people being gay.

Thanks to the late reverend, thousands of grieving families across Midwest America had their loved one’s final journey crashed by placard-wielding zealots chanting ‘GOD HATES FAGS’ – scenes memorably captured on film by shuffling beanpole-cum-awkward documentary-maker Louis Theroux. Continue reading “Even For Bible Scholars, Homophobia Is A Choice”

Generic Left: And Now For More Of That Scintillating Political Positioning Stuff (Part 1)

Occupy: quite a good example of Generic Left
Occupy: quite a good example of Generic Left

Last time around, the Bemolution ended up trying to articulate its own slightly garbled political position almost by accident, in amongst saying lots of pessimistic things about the state of the political Left more broadly.

The aim, as almost always, was to make the case for a major revamp of left-wing politics – a modern reincarnation of classic leftist ideals that’s inclusive, non-dogmatic, and not tangled up in the baffling ideological splits and squabbles of the previous century.

This was deemed necessary because of the terrifying likelihood of radical politics otherwise sinking without trace, right at the point in human history where, as we obliviously barrel towards environmental annihilation, it’s needed more urgently than ever.

The Bemolution then had the crazed idea that we might’ve been on to something, and that by talking about our own moderately deranged political position we could counter-intuitively help make that case – proving even a worldview as strange and head-scratchingly obscure as ours fits in the same left-wing box as a lot of more orthodox radical politics. Continue reading “Generic Left: And Now For More Of That Scintillating Political Positioning Stuff (Part 1)”

John Sentamu and the Living Wage

John Sentamu with Rowan Williams
John Sentamu with Rowan Williams

Organised religion is an eternally frustrating phenomenon. Spouting bigotry, spreading ignorance and fermenting irrational hatreds, it’s grown rich at the expense of millions of earnest on-the-ground believers. On the other hand, it can occasionally shock by actually doing what it says on the tin, preaching love and compassion in the public realm. Since the establishment is less wary of vicars than shouty socialists, some of the more radical commentary that manages to poke its way into the mainstream comes from religious figures. Ex-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams somehow managed to combine being one of the most prominent critics of the post-crisis socioeconomic status quo with heading one of the country’s most conservative institutions. Archbishop of York John Sentamu is a more difficult figure – funny, charismatic, passionately for social justice, but, at the same time, still holding firm to the Church’s standard Neanderthal view on homosexuality and gay marriage. Here, though, in a brief, brilliantly clear bit of writing, he makes the case for the Living Wage.

Link: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/jul/20/john-sentamu-living-wage-scandal

Hairy Christmess

Not the Bem grotto
Not the Bem grotto

The Bemolution dislikes mostly everything about the modern world, but surprisingly for a trenchantly miserablist, atheist, socialist blog-based phenomenon, quite likes this time of year for the mince pies and the twinkly ambience. Crumb-flecked and tastelessly smothered in fairy-lights, huddled by a fan heater and listening to ‘Last Christmas’ on repeat, it wiles December away with nary a ‘Bah, humbug’.

But, to a shrinking but transcendentally passionate slice of society, Christmas isn’t about pies and turkey dinners, it’s about Jesus. And as Christians across the land gear up for JC’s two-thousand and thirteenth birthday bash, while millions and millions of others prepare for a day where they won’t think about him once, the glaring void at the centre of Christmas becomes increasingly unavoidable.

Of course, neoliberal consumer-capitalism has purged Christmas of anything remotely meaningful, let alone subversive. It has turned it into an excuse for billions to wastefully blow trillions on things they don’t really need, because that’s what it does to practically everything. In doing so, it’s only continuing a process of wilful distortion that predates hedge funds and the Republican Party by centuries.

Historical evidence strongly points towards the existence of a human being called Jesus. Whether he did all the lovely things the Bible claims or not doesn’t really matter. The example set by the religious account of him is very clear – our hirsute superhero attended to the sick and the needy, befriended lepers, prostitutes and assorted ne’er do wells, shunned the nuclear family in favour of altruistic devotion and preached social justice, pacifism and the redistribution of wealth.

In short, Jesus stood for the polar opposite of the prim and proper Jam-and-Jerusalem authoritarian chauvinism that the C-word has become indelibly linked with today. But early on in Christian history, a venal clerical elite seized control of that legacy. Tragically, the resulting religion quickly hardened into a crusty vested interest and spent the next thousand-odd years striving to subvert its founder’s core messages.

Given that huge numbers of Christians cheerily ignore the radical implications of what their messiah supposedly said and stood for, it’s dizzyingly unlikely that the millions who blankly chew their way through the hollow consumption end of Christmas might bear Jesus’s egalitarian and anti-establishment messages in mind while sitting down to the Strictly Festive Special.

Bearded lefty Rowan Williams
Bearded lefty Rowan Williams

The Great Creator probably doesn’t exist, and the Jesus his devotees idolise is probably fictional. But that shouldn’t stop non-god-bothering leftists from remembering that some of Christ’s core messages are virtually identical to their own. Dawkins-mould evangelical atheism, that casts all religious belief as evil and fights an unwinnable Canute-like battle to completely rid the world of it, just alienates the progressive open-minded Christians that do hold true to those core beliefs.

This Christmas, in the UK, 300,000 more people are in fuel poverty than this time last year. 400,000 are going into their second consecutive festive season out of work, and being subjected to ever more humiliating tests and invasions of privacy to get jobseeker’s allowance. Millions will have struggled and scrimped and saved to afford Christmas, as the cost of living rises and wages don’t, and thousands will have accrued shattering levels of debt trying to make ends meet.

And then there are the millions more in forgotten parts of the world who are starving and dying and living in despair, for whom not even never having had to endure Do They Know It’s Christmas provides any consolation from their daily suffering. Whether you think Jesus was the blazingly virtuous son of God or a rabble-rousing carpenter whose divine characteristics were made up by later generations of believers, the values that are traditionally attributed to him – generosity, selflessness, compassion, equity and others – are exactly those desperately in need of a resurgence if we’re ever going to grope our way towards a more just, humane, equitable world.

Something Like Bemolutionary Ethics, But Not As Pretentious

kevin-carter-vulture

What’s the meaning of life?

There isn’t one, obviously. In a globalised world as maddeningly complex as the one we find ourselves floundering in, secularised, individualised and increasingly insular, there could never be some kind of universally accepted reason for being. In pockets, people seem to be returning to religion as a sort of reassuring bulwark against the uncertainties and instabilities of the modern age, but this looks unlikely to stop the general crawl towards secularism. God isn’t dead, but if he isn’t on the way out he’s certainly taken a step back out of the spotlight.

Even if they aren’t properly taken up by a lot of people who’d call themselves atheist, the implications of rejecting God are huge. ‘Meaning’, in the grand(iose) sense of the word at least, ceases to exist – the word implies that life was set up, somehow knocked together in the beginning, by someone or something with a specific purpose in mind. Which it wasn’t.

Everything alive, ever, wasn’t built or purposely shaped by anything, but just happened to happen in the way it did. Humans don’t have souls, which, plucked from the nether and briefly stuffed in a fleshy wrapper, eventually swan off to the afterlife to hang loose with the great Creator. All life is just the product of an unutterably miraculous biological accident that’s proved a runaway success. Even calling it Evolution seems to give it a pseudo-religious grandeur it doesn’t warrant – it’s something that has mindlessly unravelled, forwarded by generation after generation of organisms that have minutely adjusted to the environment around them, with billions of years-worth of tiny adaptations turning microscopic sea-bacteria into things with arms and legs and, eventually, mortgages and inflated senses of self-importance. Continue reading “Something Like Bemolutionary Ethics, But Not As Pretentious”