The strange dichotomy of death and religion

I am thoroughly convinced that one of the main reasons for the existence of religion is the fact that we all die. Man has, from the very dawn of self-awareness, struggled with the reality of this fact, that we live for a short time and then die and are never seen or heard of again.

Jay Novella mentioned last week in the SGU podcast (remembering Perry De Angelis) that "death makes no sense and it is a loss". I agree, man has tried to make sense of death from the beginning and tried to find ways to cope with the loss and, there you have it, religion tries to make sense of it and tries to find ways to alleviate the loss.

Not very succesfully.

The strange dichotomy I am refering to in the title to this post, is the effect of death on the religious. I cannot understand why, if death is a transition to a "better place", if the deceased is going "to face God" and be "in his presence" (which I imagine would be wonderful if only God really existed), why then religious people react to the loss of a loved one with such intense grief? And believe me, I think agnostics and non-religious people, like myself, cope better with the loss than the religious.

I have seen the two attitudes from very close quarters. I lost my father last November, and believe me, the pain is still there and at the moment of his death, though I knew it was coming, the grief was unbearable. But, I have to accept, my dear old man is no more and I have to learn to live with that fact and console myself with my fond memories of him and the love that we shared in the family for him and he for us. And with time, acceptance sets in and peace returns.

But the religious... what a way to grieve! I have seen depression, loss of apetite, desire to also die, complete desperation. Do they not believe that their loved one is in heaven, happily playing the harp or something? Do they not rejoice at the thought of the deceased suffering no more and leaving his/her mortal attachments for an eternal life of bliss?

I don't understand.

In the Arabian Nights tales, there is one that mentions that humans should actually party, dance and rejoice when a loved one dies, for he/she was God's property and that property has gone back to his/her actual owner. From this side of the fence, that attitude makes so much more sense.

Strange things of life in this world...

Did you know the earth is flat?

Yes, it is flat... or at least so maintains the Flat Earth Society. I browsed through their claims and found them interesting. They say that

  • The Earth is flat
  • Most of it is water - held in place by ice walls
  • Gravity is really acceleration - the Earth accelerates upward and that gives us the illusion of gravity

And most interestingly, they say that if Earth were round, people standing on the south pole would fall off!!!

I don't know if they really believe all of this nonsense is true or if they are only having fun at the expense of gullible people. Anyway, check their claims and see if they convince you. They didn't convince me.

And I still don't understand what Rasputin has to do with all of it...

By the way, researching this piece, I found this fantastic piece of art, by a gentleman called George Grie. You can use it as wallpaper.

THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS: The Archdiocese of Mexico recomends women how to dress and behave to avoid sexual aggression!

Jamie Lynn did not follow the advice of Father Román...

I believe the priesthood has overdone it. I stumbled upon this news (in spanish here) and felt outraged. An excerpt follows, freely translated by yours truly:

"The Archdiocese of Mexico has published some 'advice' for young women to avoid being the victims of sexual attacks... 'do not use provocative clothing'; 'avoid being alone with a man, even if he is an acquaintance...'; 'avoid suggestive conversation...'

"When we exhibit our body without modesty we are prostituting it because we cause in others feelings they have no right to unless it is our desire to become public property, that is, we get mentally prostituted*. That's what pornography is, a mental prostitution..."

"The human body is simply beautiful, it is God's work... Art has glorified and sublimated it in search of a merely esthetical feeling...

"Some of our young women, well educated in the value of modesty, feel uncomfortable with clothing that shows their bodies. We see them modestly pulling down their short shirts, their skirts and covering their cleavage with a sweater..."

*my emphasis

Looking back at my previous post on personal responsibility, I believe this is another wrong direction religion can take us. It is not the rapist's fault - she was "unmodest" and "provocative" or "suggestive". This "advice" also makes the priesthood thinking visible, they insist on demeaning women by making them guilty of the aggression they suffer because "it is her fault" or "she was looking for it".

It is time to stop the bullshit and the nonsense. Everyone has to be accountable for their actions. End of the story. Nothing less will do.

Note: I tried looking at the source in the Archdiocese of Mexico's website,, as advertised in these news and in the Google search. The website was apparently down, probably because of the (just) indignation at this stupidity. However, I was able to ascertain that the note was published on August 10th, 2008, by priest Sergio G. Román del Real. The article might have been pulled by the Archdiocese which is now trying to distance itself from the writings of "father" Román. Check this additional note here (in spanish)

And now there is a book on the Merchants of Faith!

The book is called "How to get rich as a Televangelist or Faith Healer" (Bill Wilson, Paladin Press 2008) and in it he is exposing the tricks of the trade commonly used by these con artists (Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Pat Robertson, even our very own local boy Cash Luna) to get the faithful to "believe" but, more importantly, "to give" until it hurts (the faithful, of course, not them).
I have not read the book but you can check out the contents here. I did listen to an interview with Bill Wilson on the Infidel Guy show and it really was a paradox, wanting to laugh out loud and at the same time feeling the frustration of knowing that people are being so blatantly misled and conned into giving away their hard earned cash.
Consider this typical ploy of the faith healer (and these fraudsters love "to heal"): after carefully screening the "heal-ees", they are told to sit in a very special chair the pastor has for them. The chair, of course, is a wheel chair. They are then wheeled into the stage (notice that they did not come with "their" wheel chair, it was already prepared for the poor suckers) and the "faith healer" says something like "In the name of Jesus, get up from that chair and RUN!". And people do run and the audience explodes. Of course, you see a guy get wheeled in and then you watch the guy get up and run, you assume he has been "healed" and can now walk. But, who said he couldn't walk in the first place?
In the interview, Wilson also mentions the exposé by James Randi of Peter Popoff. Randi showed up at the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (he and Carson were very good friends) and told him "Johnny, we learned something interesting about God. He broadcasts in 49 MHz and he speaks with Peter Popoff's wife's voice!". Turns out Randi went to one of Popoff functions and took a radio scanner with him; Poppof was being told by his wife over a wireless link about the audience and their ailments, looking at cards the attendants had filled as they came in. Check the YouTube video here. It is very educational.
Anyway, this is a follow up to my previous posting on the Merchants of Faith. Get the book, I will - 166 pages of fun reading will go by in a couple of sittings at the throne and, who knows, maybe I have another career left in me yet!

And now on to... rising fuel prices?

Yeah, another subject worthy of critical thinking - don't you think?

I recently submitted what you would call an op-ed to a local newspaper, on the subject of rising prices at the pump. It has not been published yet, which is why I will not reproduce it here but it seems to have generated a bit of controversy among the editorial staff.

Reason for the controversy is the fact that I do indeed work for an oil company and even though I have nothing to do with fuels or fuels marketing, my article was apparently seen by some as "loaded".

Why loaded?

Maybe my big mistake was indicating that oil companies are not "greedy". That must be a capital sin in the world of these newspaper editors, who are always looking for "the angle" and "who to blame". (Everyone's to blame except for me - I guess).

But the truth is, oil companies are not greedy. At least, not in the traditional sense of the word. Let me explain.

Greed is a human emotion. If you have ever worked in a large corporation, you know that the full range of human emotions applied to the corporate "mind" is utterly meaningless. Yes, big companies (big oil, indeed) can be ruthless but it is not out of "greed" or "hate" or because there is an inherent "evil" within. It is just that they represent two main interests: one, the shareholders', who are always trying to get more for their investment and will flee at the first sign of trouble and two, the managers and corporate directors, who operate under the pressure of these shareholders and have what I think is a very myopic and shortsighted outlook, namely, the results for the year have to be good so that we can be well evaluated this year and we will hold the stock price high. Unfortunately, this thinking leads to decisions that are difficult to understand from a distance and may look "ruthless" and "greedy" to outsiders.

In any case, that is as far as "corporate emotions" go. As for the perceived "greed", well, there is none. Oil is expensive and will become more expensive simply because there is not much of it left and it will be exhausted at some time in the future. That is a fundamental fact of life and it means that we will have to pay more and more at the pump.

The times of cheap oil are past. Any new development is so outrageously expensive that most people cannot get their mind around the numbers involved. Big oil is investing as fast as it can just to keep up and they are getting behind.

The point I was trying to make in the article, which seems to be over the head of these editors, is that high oil prices may actually be good. And many people seem to agree with me. Yes, in the short term we all hurt. But if oil is inexpensive, why bother with hybrid and electric cars, biofuels, solar and wind energy? Everything else is so expensive at the moment that we all just go for the cheap option, our good old trusty petroleum derivative of choice. But make that old friend disappear and the s**t will hit the fan if we don't develop alternatives. Think about this in a post-petroleum world:

  • Flying to your favorite vacation spot - oh wait, the plane does burn kerosene, right? (That's Av-Jet for you perfectionists!)
  • Wearing the latest fashion Oakley sunglasses - hey, hold it. Doesn't plastic resin come from petroleum?
  • Let us have some good old fashioned Corn Flakes... oops, forgot that agricultural equipment runs on diesel fuel (petroleum based), the flakes themselves are cooked using heat from steam generated by an oil-fired boiler... where did oil go?
Our lives are inextricably intertwined with petroleum products and we are not aware of that. We need to start looking at the options NOW and high prices at the pump will prod us in the right direction.

Anyway, we will all be much more fit and healthy in the post-petroleum world. Walking or bicycling to work is going to do wonders for our figure.

This does not need any comments

I found these two images today in Pharyngula (thanks PZ!):

A little problem: most of the people above were not atheists. See a fascinating discussion of the topic here. Anyway, these gentlemen did not believe in the judeo-christian god and I can relate to them on those terms (Who are they? check the link above!)

There was someone who created the following retort:

I guess we all know who these idiots (sorry, geniuses) are.

Anyway, just a little bit of fun. This got me a nice new link for my blog, which I am posting today, on the right column.