Choking on a Smile

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, was asked to clarify his views on homosexuality. Mr Farron, who says he’s a Christian, was asked if he thought homosexuality was a sin. He chose not to answer immediately, then did answer. This is how Christopher Hope put it:

‘Tim Farron has finally clarified his view on gay sex after admitted that it had come a distracting “issue” for his general election campaign. The Liberal Democrat leader said in a BBC interview that gay sex is not a sin, after five days of pressure to clarify his stance on the issue. Mr Farron had faced criticism for days for failing to answer questions about his position on homosexuality. Mr Farron refused to say four times in an interview with Channel 4 News last week whether he believed being gay was a sin.’

The most interesting story is missed.

Consider the debate between writers Andrew Sullivan and Douglas Wilson on the question of same-sex marriage. Douglas Wilson is significantly Christian. Andrew Sullivan claims to be a Catholic while being significantly homosexual.

In their debate it was asked of Wilson what his position would be if, for instance, his son told him he was gay. Sullivan – after Wilson offered the slippery ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ line, asked an odd question. (The question was odd because if Sullivan is a Christian, one wonders why he didn’t already know the answer to a question which relates directly to his own sexuality.)

He asked Wilson:

‘What if he said “I’m gay and I’ve never had any sex with any other man”? What sin did he commit?’

Wilson replied:

‘I don’t believe that homosexual orientation is a sin.’

This reasoning should be obvious as sitting under the ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ line. Wilson’s reasoning seems to come straight from the Bible, specifically Leviticus (20:13) which states:

 “If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense.”

It is plain that homosexual acts are the problem. This formulation gives the Christian (if they know their Bible) the ‘get out’ clause which allows them to state, no, they do not think ‘being gay’ is a sin.

This is why the fuss made about Tim Farron is missing the point.

Why didn’t Farron immediately state that ‘being gay’ isn’t a sin? Why refuse, four times in an interview, to answer this question using the get-out clause above? It would have ended things right there.

Days later, he says that ‘being gay’ isn’t a sin – something the significantly Christian Douglas Wilson knew straight away.

Why didn’t Farron close the entire line of questioning down immediately by saying the same thing? It was Farron’s refusal to answer which got the press excited. By the time he popped up saying ‘being gay’ isn’t a sin, the hounds have worked out that isn’t the same thing as homosexual acts being sins, which is why the hounds sharpened their question to ask about ‘gay sex’.

And now Farron has been forced to state that he doesn’t think ‘gay sex’ is a sin, when the Christian book states it is. What of Farron’s position now?

Is he lying about his views to avoid being battered by the press as a homophobe? Would a professional politician do that? If he would, what does that say about his Christian convictions?

And the answer to that might be why Farron didn’t immediately play the sin/sinner card to begin with.

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Two Wrong Wings

It was interesting listening to Peter Hitchens and Ken Livingstone discuss Fidel Castro. Their brief discussion strongly suggested that people will see clearly what they are looking for. Mr Livingstone’s and Mr Hitchens’s views might be the rehearsed, stock responses demanded by their political religions, but which of the gentleman is the more deceived?

Dictators get a ‘bad press’ because the public live in a condition of mass denial.

Hitler, Stalin, Castro – pick any one you want: none of these human beings could have had their way without the help of their own civil services and tens of thousands of humans helping them. Why do we make a fetish out of the pyramid’s top stone?

Having your genitals punctured doesn’t sound like fun, and the person that actually *did it* is no doubt less than a gentleman, but was that person Castro himself?

If the local council force you to knock down your garage because it lurched an inch too far to the left, do you blame the Theresa May ‘regime’? Do you think Mrs May even knows you exist?

It’s easy to imagine a person being tortured in prison while the dictator is told by his courtiers and flatterers that nothing of the kind is going on.

Here’s a fact many persons dislike for some reason: bureaucracy brings out a person’s inner sadist. The mask of anonymity allows may people to be themselves.

Dictators get blamed for everything that happens, yet they can’t possibly be responsible for everything which happens, and that means many others are in possession of the wickedness attributed to the leader. It is humans generally which are naturally bloodthirsty and cruel, not only the recognisable figureheads we’ve all learned to hate.

It’s easy for us to look at humans like Castro and Stalin and the rest and point our fingers and say ‘monster’. This is the denial in action.

There’s no such thing as ‘monsters’. It’s more comfortable for us to pretend we are not imperfectly evolved, savage animals, because to accept this fact means we might be more like Stalin and Castro than is comfortable to know. Most of us will never have the circumstances to draw the characteristics out of us.

If we want to be honest we should begin by being honest with ourselves. Which is more likely, that Castro was ‘inhuman’ and a ‘monster’, or that he did what people do when they have absolute power, or something close to it?

I’m always amused when the next human is described as a monster, be that human a famous dictator or a killer on trial. There are so many monsters one hears about: Brady and Hindley; Huntley; Hitler; Stalin; Mao; loads of tanned, sweaty blokes wearing sunglasses and medals running rape-factories down in Latin and South America; all those IRA torturers and the other lot from the other side who ripped each others’ teeth out with pliars: apparently these people were ‘psychopaths’ or something else.

So long as they’re never described as ‘human beings’ we’ll all be okay and can maintain our delusion that these dictators and killers are exceptional. They are not.

The paradox the religious talk themselves into is darkly amusing on this. They demand we are created, yet argue that without God, belief and so on, humans would suddenly drop their morals and behave like savage animals. They do this while rejecting the theory which shows humans are barely civilised animals. Evolution via natural selection.

It is not a world of men, Machine.

Some of us really – and I mean really – dislike the idea that we exist due to the laws of physics, chemistry and biology and a few hundred million years of imperfect evolution. Religion has lied to us, and we pass that lie down the generations by continuing to think we are created, not evolved, that we are seperate from nature, that we are not actually *animals*. On the materialist world view (that’ll be the one that’s almost certainly true) there are no ‘monsters’ – there are only human animals, naked apes. Most of us have our natures under control.

Who will state that, given the freedom of behaviour that comes with dictatorship and absolute power, they wouldn’t knock-off at least one opponent by easy-memo or give the nod to the bloke in the corner?

Or would nobody knock-off an enemy behind the chemical sheds because they’d be too busy being ‘shocked’ when they heard swear words to find the time?

Most people are preening, posing, paw-licking prats who refuse to see themselves for what they are.

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Scooby Dooby Don’t

There will always be some humans who say they have ‘the right’ to take drugs. Perhaps they do. Perhaps they don’t. Which is it? One thing is certain, when a person claims ‘It’s my body, I can do what I like with it,’ there is a flaw in their reasoning.

Does the argument change when a person believes that they do not ‘have’ a body, rather they ‘are’ a body? Listening to some, it is clear the belief in the illusive ‘I’ is alive and well, and why not? The foregoing, when considered at length, can bring a chilly realisation…

One can see, straightaway, there will be (or should be) several other persons involved in our lives who would wish it that we take care of the body we have or are. My aunt is rapidly dying from lung-cancer and I would prefer that not to be the case.

If drug-taking is wrong, what makes it wrong? This is easier to answer if the drugs taken are illegal. One could find sanctuary within the walls of the law. But that’s far too easy, and dangerous. Who wants to be left holding the logic which states if something is legal it is morally right? Not me, thank you. Then again, who wants to argue drinking caffeine is morally wrong?

I am happy to be corrected here, though I remember reading that, on a chemical level, nicotine breaks down caffeine and a person recently free from cigarettes should also cut their coffee intake because without nicotine, the caffeine has a greater affect on their brains.

The affect might be greater irritability, insomnia or restless sleep – the affects of caffeine are well known, yet their affects are not considered a moral problem. Why not? Caffeine, the common name for trimethylxanthine, is a drug, a chemical a person freely ingests which has affects upon their brains they might not experience if they didn’t take it, yet it gets a free pass from any moral questioning.

That free pass could be because of the affects themselves. Ingest enough C8H10N4O2 and you might be less calm, but unlikely to be up for a spot of the old ultra-violence because of the mixture of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen you just ingested. We all consume chemicals which are unnecessary for survival, so if taking illegal drugs is wrong, I doubt it’s wrong because they’re illegal; taking them is wrong because of their affects and it’s the affects which make them illegal. It’s a small point, but it’s one which filters coffee and cola out of an argument they should not be in to begin with.

The moral questions come about, Peter Hitchens writes, when the affects of the drugs taken stupefy the taker into incoherence or dangerous behaviour they would not otherwise indulge in. This argument tends to bring up the question of alcohol. If booze is legal and is the cause of sickness, murder and other kinds of death – then why should certain drugs, especially cannabis, remain illegal?

Hitchens devotes chapter seven to this question, ‘What about alcohol and tobacco, then?’  He points out that this question is one of the key parts of the debate and states (with dry humour)

‘Once a substance is legalised, it is extremely difficult to declare that it is illegal. That is why we should be so careful about legalising cannabis and other currently illegal drugs. If this turns out to be a mistake, it will not be easily put right.’

Who says Hitchens has no sense of humour? He obviously does. Next he’ll be telling us that ‘alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities, has been known to produce all the effects of drunkenness.’

It is to his credit that he uses humour this way. It might be a sign his arguments are so obviously sound that he can afford to inject a little humour here and there. A person could be forgiven for expecting a sermon or a bossy lecture from the chap. No doubt Hitchens is capable of that, but he doesn’t do it in this book.

There are other examples of his dry humour. On the question that a person has the right to do what they want to the body they either have or are, because doing so is a fundamental freedom, closely allied with freedom of speech and freedom of thought, he states

‘I realise that in our secular society, an appeal to the authority of Mount Sinai or the Holy Trinity is not likely to be decisive.’

Superb. He continues from humour to seriousness

‘It is perhaps hard to see how anyone who valued either speech or thought should wish to spread the use of a drug that fuddles thought and makes speech halting and incoherent, but it is so.’

That is a fair example of the book’s tone or style. You get simple, logical arguments, offered using plain English as their delivery system. Splendid.

Another example, after quoting several cases of cannabis users committing violent or mindless crimes – and to refute the idea that the drug ‘chills out’ (my phrase) its users, he says

‘I am making no claim here beyond these modest points: if cannabis is a peace-promoting drug then its effects are not always evident in its users.’

Well, quite. My eldest son has been far too fond of cannabis for some years and his behaviour when smoking the stuff is upsetting. He can be obnoxious, paranoid, needlessly argumentative, downright abusive and sometimes violent. During the periods he doesn’t smoke the garbage his behaviour is significantly different. Nothing else he ingests seems to have this effect on him. Without the example of my eldest son I might well shrug my shoulders and fall-in with the crowd who make the ‘what about alcohol?’ point, but I cannot. And I know my son’s mother has, many times, been anxious that he stop smoking it. My interest is declared.

I have never been fond of this country’s political class, at any level, from Westminster to ‘my’ local councillors. It is my belief they are – all of them – entitled to no privacy whatsoever and every aspect of their lives is a legitimate target for public scrutiny and press intrusion.

I should like to know what they do, where they do it and with whom, and how much of my money they spend doing it. (I have a good friend, a psychiatric nurse based in Cardiff, who told me he and his colleagues had been out on the town, more than once, on ward funds. Another friend, a finance officer in a school told me that, many times, school funds had been used to throw leaving parties for teachers and to buy presents for them and so on. Hardly is this Watergate, but it is significantly irritating.) Yet those politicians who are (possibly) not corrupt in that sense – don’t feather their own nests – but ‘tinker’ with the laws and carry out their social experiments on the rest of us, are perhaps worse than the politician who rakes off a few quid. Some of the characters within Hitchens’s pages – and not all of them politicians – are guilty of poisoning society in a sense. They might not have meant to do it, yet that says nothing about what they actually did do. You’ll have to read the book yourself.

The next time (if there is a next time because he seems to have sorted his life out at the moment) my eldest son punches holes in a bedroom door while his younger brother and sister are watching, I might invoice Paul Mcartney for the repair.

Stop Bloody Whining

There I was standing in front of a vine
I took some grapes and I crushed them to wine
I gave some to Pharaoh who drank from my cup
I tried to interpret but I had to give up

 – Joseph and the Amazing Techicolour Dreamcoat

 

I am an admirer of Sam Harris. I am now and admirer of Maajid Nawaz. One of Harris’s regular complaints is that his critics misrepresent his views on many topics, and misrepresent him on the Islam question very often. It was actually pleasant to have Naawaz – someone who can be called an ‘expert’ on the topic of Islam and Islamism – actually explaining certain Koranic doctrines.

Harris for instance argues that the Koran actually tells people to do certain things, and some of those things are not ambiguous. He gives an excellent example to Hasan when he says that, nobody reading the Koran is going to close the book and believe they can now eat bacon and drink alcohol. Some things are directives.

Nawaz responds on alcohol:

[..] everyone assumes that all alcohol is absolutely prohibited for all Muslims. In Arabic the word assumed to mean alcohol is khamr. There’s a long-standing historical discussion about what khamr means and whether or not it’s prohibited. An extremely early tafsir (exegesis) of the Qur’an was by Imam Abu Bakr al-Jasas, who hailed from the Hanafi school of jurisprudence within the Sunni denomination of Islam. The Hanafi school is known to be the first school of interpretation and therefore the closest in proximity to the time of the Prophet. In his interpretation of the Qur’an, al-Jasas discusses the linguistic meaning of khamr at length and elaborates on why for Hanafis a literal interpretation of the word covers only a prohibition on wine from grapes. This means that for the jurists of this first school, it was permitted—and still is for those who follow the early Hanafis—to consume any form of alcohol other than wine.

Suddenly, a reading of the Koran can allow alcohol so long as it’s not wine from grapes. This was an eyebrow-raiser for me.

Nawaz’s basic position is that Islam is not a religious of peace, nor is it a religion of war. It’s just a religion which can be ‘interpreted’ to mean this or that.

‘Interpretation’ is an interesting word in respect to textual analysis.

Persons misuse language all the time. Persons will use one word to disguise another because the one they use suggests they are smarter, or kinder, or something else. For example many parents and teachers will demand ‘respect’ from the younger person, and might shout this. They don’t realise that ‘respect’ cannot be demanded because it’s is a matter of how the other person feels about you. When the parent or teacher demands respect they are probably demanding obedience. This is a different thing, and it makes sense why the parent or teacher would perform a sort of doublethink on themselves by masking the word. Such a person might genuinely believe they are asking for respect.

It’s a similar thing with ‘interpretation.’ When a person declares that they ‘interpreted it to mean..’ they probably mean that they ‘imagined it to mean..’

(Imagination in this context is connected to desire.)

Using ‘interpret’ sounds more technical, it sounds like you’ve being doing some hard mental work; ‘interpret’ is only a step away from ‘decoded’ which really would require some hard work. So it’s obviously better to claim this than to claim you’ve ‘imagined’ the meaning of the words, because ‘imagined’ just means you’ve ‘made it up’ – so who would need to take you seriously?

I wonder if those in the head-removal community find Koranic warrant for their bloody fun by choosing to ‘interpret’ the text to mean what they want it to mean.

Down With the Sickness

I’ve wondered why zombie movies and shows are so popular. They certainly are popular so there has to be a reason.

I wondered before what is the subtext to these movies and shows – or to zombies themselves? Why do we like them?

I thought that, perhaps, the popularity was in the childhood game of cops and robbers: basically (but with zombies) we get to ride about killing bad guys: we get to act like heroes, saviours and soldiers all in one go. It’s an ego trip, in other words.

I now think the truth might be much darker than that.

I watched the final scene of episode five of Fear the Walking Dead, where Ruben Blades is looking at the chained double-doors, and immediately the image of John Hurt, lying on the table in Alien (1979) came to mind.

It was the way the doors were bulging and looked like they were stretching which made me think of that famous scene.

Then my thoughts were of how a woman’s belly can look when a baby is stretching.

It was pretty obvious that behind those doors, something was trying to get out, and I’m sure that during the season finale, all those walkers will escape (be born) into the action of the episode – and that’s what we’re all now waiting for.

Back in the 1960s, Stanley Milgram conducted his famous experiments into obedience to authority and discovered something depressing about the nature of the human: we will easily harm, torture or even kill another person if instructed to do so by ‘authority’ figures. These findings were unwelcome by many; for instance because Milgram showed the ‘Nuremberg Defence’ might actually be a defence – or a solid reason, at any rate – for the facilitating of mass murder by who in many cases were civil servants, not ideological Nazis.

It’s easier (and more agreeable) to conclude the ‘I was only following orders’ defence is a weak excuse used by evil people than it is to accept that humans might have something savage in their natures, or, more bluntly, that a tendency to cruelty and sadism is the default position. It doesn’t suit our geocentric idea of ourselves as the ultra-evolved master-species to be told how fucking base we actually are.

What we desire, on unconscious levels of awareness, can manifest itself in our dreams and sometimes our waking fantasies; so it makes sense that we might be attracted to some external stimulant – be it a song, movie or television show – which reminds us of those instinctive desires in some way. As Huxley states in Heaven and Hell:

Most dreams are concerned with the dreamer’s private wishes and instinctive urges, and with the conflicts which arise when these wishes and urges are thwarted by a disapproving conscience or a fear of public opinion.

Could it be that zombies are not so different from what the human is once you take away the controlling elements of language and society? And shows such as The Walking Dead are popular because they allow a psychic vibration to flow back to our savage selves?

More bluntly:

Zombies are popular because an unconscious recognition happens between what we see and our animalistic true natures.

More bluntly still:

Zombies remind us of ourselves: of the part of our evolved natures that’s waiting to break out from behind our civilised masks just as soon as society falls.

Got a problem with that?

Read your Stanley Milgram.

A Snail on the Moon

Time-loop paradox stories are the worst type of science-fiction, and that’s because the best type of science fiction is hard science fiction – and you can’t get softer than a time-loop paradox.

Actually, Triangle (2009) is not awful, but it is only redeemed at the end when we realise Melissa George’s character has died. This makes her predicament quite unpleasant to think about, and Stephen King said his own idea of Hell is repetition – and it’s easy to see his point.

Predestination (2014) is a film which deserves to be tied to a post and shot. (Or blown out the nearest airlock.)

What could be the motivation of the Spierig brothers to adapt such a stupid story?

The point of good science fiction is to open the minds of the readers and viewers to our insignificance in the universe: only when we have a grasp of our smallness can we begin to appreciate the cosmos. This means more than just being told we’re small and accepting it’s true, it means feeling small. The only thing of mine which opened when I watched Predestination was my mouth when I yawned.

The start-point for fiction is the what-if question. That’s a good place to start, but the what if should be something possible, if only theoretically.  Which is going to lead to a better story: a what if which might happen, or a what if which could never happen?

That’s Predestination’s problem.

Acknowledging the original short story from the 50s, it’s a sort of The Adjustment Bureau meets The Man Who Folded Himself meets Coherence type movie.

So, yes, if a person could travel back in time they could fuck about with themselves when they were younger, and end up becoming their own parents and children and lord knows who else. It’s all really interesting…but it’s impossible. And ‘impossible’ is the first thing decent science fiction needs to avoid.

Would anyone care about a story about Sammy the snail, who, after overcoming significant personal problems, realised his dream of becoming an astronaut and visiting the moon?

Thought not.

I think sometimes fiction is pointless. I never thought I’d say that: I always thought I would grant to the fiction writer any amount of licence, but impossible science fiction seems to me to be a crime against fiction. Calling it fantasy sci-fi won’t wash because you make the word science absurd.

Yes – I’m being harsh.

Creepy Shadows

I think the part of the video below I’m going to suggest you watch is creepy in a subtle way. This might just be me and my over active imagination, but it might not. The video is of a talk given by Matt Parker, a Mathmetician, to a group of children at the Royal Institution. The talk is about Geometry and is light hearted and fun. I don’t know if this talk is one of the RI’s Christmas lectures, but Parker is stood at Farady’s desk.

At about forty minutes in, the talk becomes sinister.

Parker shows an animation of the shadow of a cube unfolding into its net. Think of the lid of a square box flipping up, the back-side dropping down, and the sides collapsing, and you’ll get the idea. Then, he shows an animation of a 3D cube unfolding under a light to explain the first animation of the shadow. All good so far.

Then, keeping to exactly the same principles as used for a 3D cube folding/unfolding, he plays an animation of the shadow of a 4D net folding itself up to become a four-dimensional cube. This is where the creepy thing happens.

Scroll the video to about 40 minutes in.

As the shadow of the 3D cube’s “lid” flips over, you’ll see the sides “stretch” as it flips. This is okay because we know, instinctively, why this happens because we know about shadows and how they seem to stretch depending on the angle of the light source, and the angle changes because the lid is moving. We understand, and can imagine the movement required to create this “stretch” effect.

But watch the video of the 4D cube, folding and unfolding, and look at how the lid of that shape stretches. It stretches in a way whick looks impossible in 3D – just as the shadow of the lid of the 3D cube looks like it stretches impossibly when the 2D shadow moves. What on earth is that 4D cubing doing to cast a shadow like that?

What is that 4D cube doing?

That’s the creepy thing. We don’t know, and can’t imagine it. The unknown is scary.

And if, like me, you have read The Dreams in the Witch House by H P Lovecraft, you’ll know that even a bit of geometry can be creepy.

No Loss of Mass

Luke Godfrey changed his mind about his bacon sandwich. He put the red plastic ketchup bottle back down on the table and picked up the blue one, took the top slice of bread off his sandwich and gave it a squirt of mayo. The man sitting opposite Luke Godfrey – Shane Allahan – watched him.

‘Since when do you put mayo on bacon?’ Shane asked. ‘I’ve never seen you do that.’

‘I don’t, normally – I’m just sick of ketchup,’ said Luke.

‘Brown sauce, okay; ketchup, definitely – but mayo on a bacon sarnie? Mayo is for the chicken salad sandwich, mate, not the bacon.’

‘Those times, they are a-changin,’ said Luke. ‘Maybe in more ways than one.’

Luke and Shane were good friends and worked in the same office. They were cut from the same cloth. They would meet up a couple of times a week at their local greasy-spoon for breakfast before wandering into town to their office. Occasionally one of their flock would be in the café as well, pouring only ketchup on his breakfast.

‘Meaning what exactly?’ said Shane, as he popped a perfectly round onion ring onto his tongue.

‘Meaning I’m done with United, mate,’ he said.

‘Which means what? How do you mean, “done” with United?’ asked Shane. ‘You mean you’re not renewing your season-ticket? I know you were moaning a while back about that, but – ‘

‘No, I’m mean I’m done. They are not my team anymore.’

Shane was confused and stopped eating a sausage to consider what Luke was saying. ‘Let me get this straight. You’re saying you’re no longer a United supporter? No more games, no more pub with the boys?’

Luke looked cagey. ‘Well, not quite.’ He took a breath and then said it. ‘I’m going over to City.’

A lump of semi-chewed sausage fell from Shane’s mouth. ‘Say that again, I didn’t hear you right. For a second I thought you said you were going over to City.’

‘That’s what I said. I’ve emailed the chairman of their supporters’ club. I’m seeing him in a couple of days. They’re gonna take me through it; you know, the process and what they expect and all that and then they’ll see if I’m okay for them and then I’ll be…well, I’ll be one of them.’

Shane just looked at Luke, opened mouthed, for several seconds. Their breakfast was forgotten.

‘Okay,’ said Shane, ‘I’ve got a few questions.’

‘Thought you might, but before you ask them let me just say I’ve really struggled with my conscience on this – it’s not a decision I’ve taken lightly.’

‘Why were you United in the first place?’

‘Because my dad was, that’s how I was brought up,’ said Luke.

‘Exactly,’ said Shane. ‘You can’t just switch your loyalty. You have to think about this a minute – no, just wait a second – your loyalty grows out of time, out of going to the games and worshiping the team; it grows out of all the great nights and the crack down the pub. You didn’t do any of that with City.’

‘Shane, this is why I said I struggled with my conscience, this is not a simple thing, like flicking a switch. It’s a conversion.’

‘What? Mate, nobody – and I mean nobody – has ever converted from one team to another; it’s unheard of and it’s also ridiculous. It can’t be done. You must be delusional. There’s no such thing as a genuine conversion. It just means you didn’t believe what you said you believed to begin with.’

Luke suppressed a snarl, he felt anger tightening his gut. ‘I’m offended! How dare you upset me! I’m telling you about my deepest feelings and beliefs, and how I’ve struggled with my conscience, and you think I’m just mad! I haven’t just got some “new” loyalty, I’ve converted my feelings for United into feelings for City.’

‘You haven’t listened to me. Loyalty stands on the past and you have no past with City.’

‘And you haven’t listened to me. It’s the same loyalty that you’re talking about – just converted.’

‘Jesus! And what does that actually mean? I mean, really. It’s changed colour? Changed shape?’

‘Shane, come on, mate. Take it seriously,’ said Luke

Shane stood up and the table legs scraped as he shoved his way past. He slammed the door behind him.

Greasy Graham, the café’s owner, looked over at Luke. ‘What’s ‘is problem?’

Luke didn’t look up.

2

Luke strode into the shop and asked the sales assistant for the new City shirt, and yes, he wanted the home shirt, not the away strip.

It took the assistant a couple of minutes to fetch one from the back room and Luke held it up in front of him, admiring the badge before kissing it: the symbol of who and what he was to become. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and tears of joy tried to escape from his overactive tear ducts. He nodded at the assistant and went to a changing room to try it on.

He rubbed the shirt smooth across his cider-belly and gazed at himself in the mirror. He felt complete, like he’d come home to where he belonged, and that was part of it for Luke – belonging, feeling like you were not alone. He still had his friends. They’d come round.

Shane Allahan was furious, however. He’d spent an hour texting everyone he and Luke new to tell them about Luke’s Judas-move. All the history, all the beer they’d drunk, all the toilets they’d vomited in together, all this was for nothing? It could just be thrown away? It made no sense. Shane checked back through the texts he’d received from his two best mates, Mark and John both suggested they all never speak to Luke again. Another friend of Shane’s, Luke’s cousin, Paul, went even further and suggested something which Shane thought was crazy, but the idea was growing on him. They wanted to petition their landlord, Big Steve The Stoner, and get Luke officially barred from the premises. Luke had to go, they suggested, it was a matter of honour. Friendship and family was one thing, but football was something else.

Luke was due back in the office later than usual, by arrangement, and so Shane was at his desk, clicking away at his computer when Luke sat down opposite. Shane didn’t look up; he shifted in his seat and coughed.

‘Come on, mate, we don’t need all this,’ said Luke. He tapped into his computer and gave the mouse a few clicks, setting things ready for the rest of the afternoon.

‘They taken you in?’ said Shane without looking up. He was staring intently at the screen; whatever was on it was too important to risk looking away.

‘Yeah, they have,’ said Luke. ‘I’ve got the shirt. Look, it’s just the lack of buying and the excuses all the time. And the manager, well, Christ, don’t get me started on him.’

‘So you’ve got your new robes,’ said Shane. ‘Very nice, I’m sure. I’m sure you’ll look quite the picture of devotion.’

That was the last they spoke all afternoon.

3

The Baptist Bar, the local watering hole for United devotees – and Shane and Luke’s local – was so named because it used to be a Baptist Church years ago and was converted into a drinking den when demand for the supernatural started to wane. On any given night, most of the customers would be in red – the scum in Blue had their own place of worship across town.

Nobody expected Luke to show up that night no matter what he was wearing, but to walk through the door dressed in blue – every head turned but not one spoke for seconds as they comprehended the sight before them.

‘Alright, boys,’ said Luke, back to the door. ‘I’m still the same guy – what’s the big deal?’

‘You’re in the wrong pub,’ said Big Baz. The over-hang of his gut wobbled with rage. Luke could see his skin was almost as red as his shirt.

‘Look,’ said Luke, trying not to show his fear, ‘I’m just looking for a pint and we can sort this all out. Okay? Who wants a pint? On me.’

Shane couldn’t look at Luke; he turned away and tears dripped onto the pool-table as he shook his head.

Nobody made a move, but then the landlord, Big Steve The Stoner, produced from under the bar a hastily fashioned effigy, wearing a City shirt, held up by a broom handle stuck in its backside.

‘This is you, Judas. You’re just paper, straw and cardboard in this place now.’ Men in red shirts all nodded, grunting their agreement.

A passerby would later tell the fire-brigade that the door flew open and a guy in a blue football shirt shot out at top speed. The burning effigy hit the door as it slammed shut behind him, burning down the pub.

Red Sox in Disguise

I’ve been discussing the idea of God and the nature of belief in God with persons for some time now, and also have looked at some of the philosophical arguments for God. These discussions have been in person and also in writing and they can very quickly turn emotional.

I used to think the question – does God exist? – was a serious question and anyone who claims He does exist was making a claim about me. They still are but my position’s shifted and discussions about individual religions don’t interest me because arguing about one religion versus another is like arguing about what Father Christmas likes for breakfast.

I’ve studied some of the famous arguments for God; I’ve looked, with awe and amusement, at how some persons will mangle language to suit their own delusions, and I’ve discovered the expression ‘this only gets you to agnosticism’ irritates me every time I hear it.

I’ve changed my mind about the important question. There’s no reason outside a person’s head to believe God exists, and I’ve seen enough examples of language being abused to think the religious also know this – because they go to such lengths to pretend they’re not doing it. Cognitive dissonance and doublethink rule the mind on this topic.

What really interests me is this: do believers actually believe, or are they simply lying?

One must define one’s terms.

By ‘belief’ I mean internal conviction that God exists. In other words, when the believer says ‘I believe in God’ they mean what they say and think a supernatural being actually exists: they have conviction this is true in the same way they believe they know their own name or believe they know where they live – or anything else they would say they believed. For instance, they would say they believe the Sun exists. There’s no question about this, the believer can see, feel and with the right equipment even hear the Sun. They, as we all are, all have conviction the Sun exists.

So when the religious person thinks of the Sun existing, and thinks God exists, are the sensations comparable – do they feel the same? Do they have conviction about God?

That’s what (you get the idea) I’m assuming a believer means when they say ‘belief.’ Anything less than that and it seems they mean something else when they say they ‘believe.’

The reason for labouring this point is when some religious say they ‘believe’ they are expressing a hope, not a belief. What one hopes is true is quite a different thing from what one believes is true. How much conviction does a religious believer actually have? There are ways to think about this logically.

There is no religion I can think of which doesn’t offer survival of death as one of the selling points. The afterlife is something taken for granted with religion. To assume that a religious person believes in survival of death is utterly reasonable – and it’s their attitude to death which is one clue to the sincerity of their claim to believe.

‘Terrorists’ like to blow stuff up – we all know this, but a bomb detonated by a Catholic from the IRA is different from the bomb detonated by an Islamic fanatic.

The desire to cause explosions and damage property, to kill and maim and spread fear is the political aspect of both bombs; but the desire to deliberately kill your self is the religious aspect. Islamic fanatics have suicide as part of the method, the IRA never did.

Could it be possible the IRA weren’t devout Catholics?

Could it be the Islamic fanatic actually does believe he will survive the blast from his own device, and that’s why he’s happy to kill himself? I like to put the answer this way: it better be, otherwise the Mullahs need lessons in resource management.

The suicide bomber is a simple, though extreme example, and most ordinary ‘believers’ are not asked to kill themselves for a cause.

There is an example of mainstream religious behaviour which any regular believer could indulge in, and that’s the old classic of religious conversion. This will take a moment to explain.

Who has heard of a sporting conversion?

Can you imagine someone ‘converting’ from the Red Sox to the Yankees or from Man Utd to Man City ? It wouldn’t happen because sports fans have genuine conviction about their beliefs.

Imagine the experiment:

A Red Sox guy has everything which happens to his brain when he considers his team mapped and tagged in an MRI. He’s then asked if he’s willing to convert his convictions, his beliefs, his feelings and so on from the Red Sox to the Yankees.

He need only go home, do the conversion on his own or with anyone else he likes and by any means he chooses, come back, get his brain mapped to make sure he’s not faking it and he’ll receive $50,000 for his trouble. (He can then happily convert back again.)

Even if you could find a Red Sox guy who was willing, he wouldn’t be able. We all know how deep sporting convictions run in the mind.

Yet the religious can drop their deep, heartfelt convictions, their beliefs about revealed truth and the nature of the universe, and just choose to have faith and conviction in an entirely different set of religious positions after no more than a bit of ‘soul-searching’ and some ‘conversion’?

The word ‘conversion’ is used to imply a complicated, technical process inside the mind: the taking of one thing, then the moulding, changing, and altering of it to fashion a new something from the previous material.

It’s utter rubbish: the religious just begin saying they believe something else now, while hiding the lie (from themselves) by using technical language.

Nothing is converted.

Suicide tells you the person truly believed it, conversion tells you the person truly did not, and still does not.

I believe that language speaks louder than actions – always look to the language.

That’s the two ends of the spectrum dealt with – but the majority of religious are normal, everyday people whose behaviour is never extreme enough for their convictions (suicide) or lack of them (conversion) to be spotted. How to tell what the mainstream moderate majority actually think?

2

When I was a child I used to play with Transformers. These were the robots which could turn themselves into everyday objects like cars or jets and so on. I also used to read the Transformers comic, and this had a letters page where other kids would write in to speak to the Decepticon robot, Soundwave, who edited the letters page.

One kid wrote a letter asking what he thought was an intelligent question. It went something like this:

“Dear Soundwave,

My favourite Transformer is Jazz but when he’s a car he has wheels but they disappear when he transforms. Where do they go?”

Actually, it’s a fair question. Soundwave explained that when a car Transformer becomes a robot, the wheels and tyres are locked in special compartments which can’t be seen, so it looks like they disappear.

I remember thinking that a better question might be: how is it possible that a forty foot high robot, when it transforms, becomes a Walther P38 a person can hold in their hand? And while we’re on the topic, how come Soundwave himself, another forty foot high robot, could transform and become a cassette player? I mean, how could they become smaller?

I think my question is a better one, but I didn’t ask it because I didn’t care about reason when I was eight. And it’s important to remember how we felt, as kids, when something absurd was put before us – we didn’t care.

I knew, in one part of my mind, Megatron and Soundwave’s shrinking was impossible, but it wasn’t important; it did nothing to damage the enjoyment of the stories. But it’s recognising something is impossible, or highly unlikely, and then rejecting it for that reason, which is the difference between the child and the adult.

For ‘Megatron shrinking’ read ‘Evolution via Natural Selection’ for the religious.

Techno God

A woman I work with once told me ‘I don’t believe in God, but I believe in something…’

If such a person would submit to forensic questioning, and would answer honestly, it would be quickly established that they were just afraid of death. This doesn’t mean afraid of dying, it means afraid of being dead – of not existing. It is, initially, a horrid thing to consider.

This is why O’Brien tells Winston that he will be vaporised, removed from history, that no record of his existence will remain: he was playing to an innate fear of the dark in all of us, and those lines where O’Brien talks of deleting Winston from history are where religion and the state are fused.

It’s no coincidence that human fears find themselves being the inspiration for all kind of fiction – from rape to death, and Lucy is no different. Ultimately, it’s a movie about surviving death and is religious propaganda for that reason.

Name me a religion which doesn’t offer the survival of death as one of the benefits?

The film is mash-up of other movies: Limitless (2011) and The Matrix (1999) most obviously, but there’s also allusions to The Hulk (which is really Stephenson’s Jekyll and Hyde) and (why not) I Spit on your Grave (1978, 2010) for the hot-chick-revenge-movie angle.

There’s also – and who could miss it – the tedious feminist line in that the film starts with Lucy being trapped with handcuffs and forced to do something against her will by a man; then gets tortured, beaten and so on, by men and gets something stuck inside her against her will. I mean, like – hello?

All the classic elements are there. The only nice guys are Morgan Freeman as the fatherly scientist and the ugly French cop who plays the token ugly and gets (better than nothing) a brief snog with Miss Scarlett.

I read someone slagged the film off because it uses the myth that humans access but 10% of their brains, but it can never be right to attack a fiction writer for writing fiction, and this criticism is misplaced – the movie is good fun, but it’s not hard science fiction – it’s more just disguised religious fantasy fiction.

If it was better (and it’s not bad) I’d have more to say about it.

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