The contradictions of belief in Australia

December 19, 2009

An interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald caught my attention today. One thousand Australians were polled by Nielsen on the subject of faith. You can read the whole article from the link above, but a few things made me shake my head.

Firstly, it’s worth remembering that 85% of statistics are made up on the spot. Including that one right there. You can pretty much bend any figures to suit your point of view. Another key point is that 1,000 people is a very tiny fraction of Australia’s 22 million head population. A really good poll would have tried for at least 220,000 people to get a decent cross-section of the country. These polls are always based on very small numbers though. Take a different 1,000 Australians and I bet the answers would vary greatly.

What interested me more than these mere technicalities though was the nature of some of the questions. Simply put, this poll largely identified Australia as a nation with a Christian past and a fundamentally Christian culture. Well, no shit. About half the population calls itself Christian. Of course, around 6 percent call themselves Jedi. You can call yourself whatever you like, it doesn’t make it true.

Some of the questions and answers really made clear the underlying bollocks of all this. Matters of belief are very personal, largely a person’s own method of grappling with their miniscule position in the great big universe. Take the fact that 56 per cent believe in Heaven, but only 38 per cent believe in Hell. That’s a bit convenient, no? You can’t have one without the other. And while 38 per cent believe in Hell, only 37 percent believe in the devil. Who does that 1 per cent think is running things down there?

Then there are questions like: Do you believe in witches? That’s not a matter of belief. Show me someone that follows Wicca and I’ll show you a witch. No belief necessary, they’re demonstrably present. They’re usually really annoying too, going on about the Goddesses and completely misinterpreting the tenets of their ‘faith’, but they exist. A better question would have been: Do you believe in magic. But then you’d have to define magic. Like the question: Do you believe in miracles? Broad definition applicable there too.

Then there was the question: Do you believe in UFOs? What, Unidentified Flying Objects? Every time you see something in the sky that you can’t identify, that’s a UFO. Presumably the question meant: Do you believe in aliens? We’ll have to take it that most people interpreted it that way. 34 per cent said Yes, incidentally. More than the 22 per cent that believe in witches. Even though you can go and shake hands with a witch, but you’d be hard pressed to actually find an alien.

Of course, you also need to check in with the atheists. 30 per cent agreed with the statement: There is – or seems to be – no god. Apparently the number of atheists is rising while the number of faithful is falling, but it’s a slow transition. We seem to poll very similar numbers to the UK, far behind the more skeptical and secular Scandinavians, while being way ahead of the US. 92 per cent of Americans believe in the existence of god or a universal spirit. Interestingly, and contradictory once again, out of the 30 per cent of Australians that believe there is no god (or doesn’t “seem to be”), ten percent still said they believe in heaven, hell, angels, witches and the devil. What the fuck? Also among those there is a fair amount of faith in astrology, UFOs and ESP. As the article concludes, “a third of the nation’s atheists, agnostics and doubters have turned their back on God, but not on magic.” I don’t find that entirely strange. It’s just entirely human.

Also interesting is that just 42 per cent believe in evolution. You can’t believe in a scientific theory. You either accept it as correct, partly correct or incorrect. Then there’s the whole grey area of how much of a part some god or other may or may not have played in the process of evolution.

Just further proof that you can’t distill these things down with extremely limited polls of extremely limited numbers. Here are the main results from the poll:

BELIEF IN A GOD: 68 per cent


BELIEF IN HEAVEN: 56 per cent

BELIEF IN HELL: 38 per cent

BELIEF IN THE DEVIL: 37 per cent

BELIEF IN ANGELS: 51 per cent

BELIEF IN WITCHES: 22 per cent

BELIEF IN UFOs: 34 per cent







EVOLUTION: 42 per cent

THERE IS – OR SEEMS TO BE – NO GOD: 30 per cent

Use the link at the top to read the whole article. It’s quite fascinating, even though it’s a load of shit.


The masters of double standards strike again

December 16, 2009

Those faithful believers in the best selling epic fantasy of all time, the Bible, are at it again. At what, you ask? Promoting amazing levels of hypocrisy and double standards, that’s what. According to today’s Sydney Morning Herald, the Catholic Church has been accused of derailing the second and third movie of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

The novels are fundamentally about the struggles of young Lyra against an institution called The Magisterium. The Magisterium is clearly based on the institution of the church, most closely the Catholic church. And so what? Allegory, analogy and appropriation are basic tools of storytelling.

The first film in the series, The Golden Compass, already had the role of The Magisterium toned down to appease religious thinskins, which is irritating enough in itself. According to actor Sam Elliot, who plays aeronaut Lee Scoresby in the film, the campaign by Bill Donohoe of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, has successfully scared New Line Cinema away from making the remaining films. Donohoe reckons the films would prompt kids to buy Pullman’s novels which he describes as “atheism for kids”. No, don’t let the children buy novels! He also said, “The reason I protested was the deceitful attempt to introduce Christian children to atheism in a backdoor fashion at Christmas time.” He seems to assume that all children are Christian by default or something.

Seriously, what a tool. He would be the first to campaign for the inclusion of prayers in school assemblies. He would be the first to insist that Christianity is an integral part of the school curriculum. He would be happy to see movies like The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, with their “deceitful attempt to introduce normal children to Christianity” (to appropriate his own quote) released at Christmas. He also complains that each volume in the trilogy becomes increasingly anti-Catholic. In fact, each volume becomes increasingly anti-Magisterium. The fact that the Magisterium is based on the church doesn’t matter. It’s a story. People will take from the story whatever allegory they see and that’s the prerogative of the storytellers and the people that go to see the films. Let them decide what they think. Is the church really so fragile?

Once again, the religious cry foul at something that might make people think. Critical thinking is, after all, the greatest enemy of organised religion of any kind. So what if the films espouse an idea of atheism? Does free speech only apply when you’re talking about Christianity, Mr Donohoe?

The thing that pisses me off the most, however, is not that people like Donohoe strut around with their attitude of self-importance and sense of Christian entitlement. After all, Donohoe is entitled to think and say whatever he likes. What grinds me is that New Line would cave in to this kind of bollocks and scurry away from the movies, whimpering with their tail between their legs.

After Donohoe’s campaign against the first movie, a campaign designed to affect box office takings, The Golden Compass took a “modest” US$85 million in the United States. What the fuck is modest about eighty five million? Besides that, the movie made US$360 million worldwide. For a movie that might take even US$100 million to make, that’s a pretty solid return.

Author of the books, Philip Pullman, says that the chances of the trilogy being completed in film are fading. Warner Bros, which absorbed New Line last year, have not been in contact with him. And according to the Herald, New Line declined to comment.

I read the trilogy long before the movies were touted and I really enjoyed it. It’s a great series of books. Let’s give a big fuck you to Bill Donohoe and New Line and buy the trilogy for all the young people we know this Christmas. The books are always better than the films anyway and we’ll get young people reading more, thinking more and enjoying a good story. It’s a far more coherent and engaging fantasy than the Bible anyway.

dark materials


Might need to reschedule

November 28, 2009

I was walking from King’s Comics to Galaxy Books this morning before heading back to Freecon and saw this. It gave me a chuckle. Hundreds and hundreds of years of systematic indoctrination, persecution and abuse? They might need more than an hour to fix that.

Ah, humanity, you dichotomy, you

November 15, 2009

It says on the About page here that I’m an optimistic cynic. Sometimes it’s hard to be optimistic though. People can be so stupid. I was reading in the weekend SMH about this American-born Jew in Israel that “spends most of every day preparing for the arrival of the Messiah”. This guy is 44 year old Yehuda Glick and he oversees the “manufacture of the utensils the high priests will need when the day arrives”. Apparently they need all kinds of urns, trumpets and garments woven from golden thread. Because presumably the Messiah, literally “the promised and expected deliverer of the Jewish people” or Jesus to the Christians, will only be impressed by the most wealthy of his devoted followers. Here’s Yehuda Glick, showing off some riches:

(Photo: AFP)

The Temple Institute, managing all this, has apparently spent US$27 million dollars on these preparations so far, all scammed from evangelical Americans touring Israel. A fool and his money and all that. They also have “a house of prayer open to all believers in the monotheistic faiths, Christians, Muslims or Jews.” Why just rip off your own when you can bring in cash flow from all the willfully ignorant?

The best bit of the whole thing for me, however, qualifies as the latest quote of the week. Glick was asked when we could expect the arrival of the Messiah, for whom all these millions of people are giving freely of their hard-earned.

Says Glick: “”That is a very good question. All that we know is that we are now living in the age of miracles and all of those miracles are predicted in the Book as happening on the eve of the end of days. It could well be tomorrow, but it might be another 100 years, or even 400 years.”

Right, you mean you have no fucking idea and don’t want to risk your funding drying up. The eve of the end of days could be four hundred years away? That’s a lot of days.

And then humanity proves itself to be the true dichotomy. While some loonies are gathering wealth on the back of a corrupted mythology, others are blaming future humans for sending birds back through time with baguettes to mess with the Large Hadron Collider. According to the dvice blog “two respected physicists” are blaming the latest LHC hiccough on a time-travelling bird. The great bread interruption was described thusly:

A speck of bread, which officials believe was originally part of a larger baguette. To make it all the more ridiculous, it’s thought that the piece of bread was dropped into the works by a bird.

The morsel found its way into the doomsday device’s outdoor machinery, sparking a temperature differential that triggered an automatic shutdown sequence.

(Wedge: That’s impossible! Even for a computer.
Luke: It’s not impossible. I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home, they’re not much bigger than two meters.)

Those two physicists mentioned above, Bech Nielsen of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, “theorize that there’s something so dangerous about the collider, time travelers are coming back to 2009 and sabotaging the experiment. They’re calling it ‘reverse chronological causation.'” Brilliant!

They have the power to send something back in time, so they send a bird that has to drop a piece of bread in exactly the right spot. How could that fail?

In the comments on the post many people are pointing out that if the LHC was so catastrophic there wouldn’t be anyone to send birds back anyway. Others have suggested that perhaps this means that there are aliens sending birds back to stop our LHC experiments in an attempt to save humanity from itself. So humanity is wiped out but the birds survive? I would suggest that maybe the LHC causes problems that take hundreds or thousands of years to recover from and it’s humans from all that time in the future that are sending back birds. Although I am a fan of the alien hypothesis.

But I’ll accept any of these explanations as entertaining and my faith in humanity is at least partially restored. Take that, Yehuda Glick!

There have been several bizarre interruptions to the whole LHC thing, so maybe our seeking of the elusive Higgs Boson does have further reaching implications. Regardless, it’s a far better use of human endeavour than swiping cash of fools and making gold jackets for the return of the zombie that’s his own father.


International Blasphemy Day

September 30, 2009

I write about magic and monsters and demons and all that stuff. I love the fantasy, horror and sci fi genre and the ideas it plays with. I’m happy to admit that there’s an awful lot out there that we can’t understand and all kinds of things happening that defy rational explanation. I don’t mind if people believe in some kind of higher power, magic or guiding force in the universe. There’s no proof for it, but there’s no proof against it either. In my opinion the only intellectually defensible position on these issues is agnosticism – we simply don’t know for sure, so having any kind of absolute fixed belief is stubborness at least and willful ignorance at worst.

So with that in mind, any kind of organised religion pisses me off. To claim that you have all the answers, the ultimate truths and so on is just bollocks as far as I’m concerned. How does this relate to writing and words (am I going off on a tangent rant here?) No, watch me segue:

The Bible, the Koran and books like them (books, see!) are some of the most abused sets of words in the world, used for all kinds of things contrary to the things they claim to teach. And they’re clearly the work of men, revised, edited, translated and rewritten with agenda time and time again. To claim they are anything like the absolute word of any god is mental.

If those books give you succour and help you to organise yourself into a functioning, moral person, that’s fine. We certainly don’t need them to be morally upstanding, but whatever floats your boat. Claim that it’s the word of any god or try to convince me that people that don’t believe it are going to some kind of hell (that they don’t believe in, incidentally) and you go straight to my shitlist. As mythologies for exploring the human condition I have no problem with them. Why is the Koran considered a religion while the Prose Edda is considered a fantasy? Something to think about.

Anyway, with those thoughts in mind, today I’m celebrating International Blasphemy Day. You can read all about it here at my friend Michael’s blog. For my part, I want to share today’s Jesus & Mo cartoon. (Jesus & Mo is one of my favourite web-comics. Check it out here.)



The missing day from the blog book tour

August 9, 2009

Ruthie over at Ruthie’s Book Reviews has got her internet connection back and posted the review of MageSign that was supposed to be part of the blog book tour. You can read the review here. There’s also a chance to get a free ebook copy of MageSign by leaving a comment on the review page.

Thanks Ruth!


Friday guest post – Our Saucy Medieval Heritage by Michael Fridman

July 30, 2009

For the ever more infrequent Friday Guest Post, here’s something very entertaining from Michael Fridman, fellow Blade Red Press author and all-round interesting fellow. In this post he explores the legacy of language derived from our less than prudish past and some stories that are worth checking out for some olden days racy fun. There are loads of very cool links throughout this piece, so be sure to check them out.

Our Saucy Medieval Heritage

Guest Post by Michael of a Nadder Good writing is often harsh. It avoids euphemisms and lays out the bare truth behind a character or storyline. Say, in Alan’s Realmshift when Samuel Harrigan first s…oh never mind, just read it if you haven’t. Or in Catch 22 when Yossarian unexpectedly shows up not wearing any clothes (because he doesn’t want to). Sometimes the best way to make a point is with some crudity or ridiculousness.

Where does this tradition come from? I think the roots are partly in classic medieval literature. Now, we sometimes have strange ideas about the past. Probably because the past itself is strange. Being Spawn of the Satanic Sexual Revolution, we often associate “medieval” with sexual prudishness and the stranglehold of the Church (at least in Europe). There’s an element of truth to it. But it’s not the whole story.

Though official chronicles and epic romances can be quite pompous, the ordinary people weren’t much different from us. For example: as you might know the medieval European town often segregated people by profession — and named the street accordingly. Miller and Baker Street are examples that have survived unto today. Interestingly, prostitution was no different, with female prostitutes often congregating in a single street in a typical English town. Its common name? Gropecunt Lane (by now these streets have evolved to something more tame, like Grape Lane). The medievals were quite direct with their words and images.

But of course this goes beyond Street Naming Conventions in Britain in the 14th Century (now there’s a niche!) — because we probably owe a great deal in the sharpness of our “cutting edge” literature to works from the period:

The Canterbury Tales This is a very wide collection of stories which includes things like the Parson’s Tale — an indubitably boring sermon which is also the longest tale in the book. But there are also stories that will give American Pie a run for its money. For instance, The Miller’s Tale which rests on spinning religious bullshit to cuckold an absent-minded husband, presenting an arse out the window when being asked for a kiss and other acts of High Courtly Love.

Gargantua and Pantagruel Forget Douglas Adams, this is the original Trilogy in Five Parts. A great satirical classic, it has in my opinion much more hidden meaning and allegory than any religious text. Rabelais makes fun of every aspect of his society, including a graphic description of Gargantua’s diarrhea which drowns most of Paris, a list of about 250 items you can append before “fool” when insulting someone and a climax where the characters go into battle with an army of fried pig intestines. Go figure.

The Decameron This was the partial inspiration of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and shows that the Italians were also open to glorious crudeness. More so than Chaucer, this collection is known for every saucy combination imaginable. Of particular note are tales of the sexual adventures of monks and nuns — probably a more accurate reflection of reality than the celibacy “ideal” promoted by official sources. My personal favourite is the First Tale of the Third Day. The author gave each tale a quick one-line summary. The translated summary for this one is “Masetto da Lamporecchio pretends to be deaf and dumb in order to become gardener to a convent of nuns, where all the women eagerly lie with him.” Believe it or not, Castle Anthrax in Monty Python and the Holy Grail wasn’t 100% original…

But That’s Not All. Of course crudity is not specific to medieval Europe. It can happen:

  • Before — the first recorded British joke from the 10th Century isn’t half bad: “What hangs at a man’s thigh and wants to poke the hole that it’s often poked before? A key.” Better than the Sumerian one, that’s for sure.
  • After — the classic Tristram Shandy can be considered as a 500p dick joke. But no spoilers here.
  • Outside Europe — if you read the proper Arabian Nights (not the abridged versions with familiar “family-friendly” tripe like Sinbad the Sailor) you’ll find that some stories will make a reader of Playboy blush.

And thus, I recommend reading some of these wonderfully-risqué works, or at least appreciating the great debt we probably owe them today.

To see more rants by Michael check out his blog at a Nadder.


Blog book tour Day 6

July 25, 2009

Today’s stop on the blog tour is a little delayed due to international time changes, but it’s worth waiting for. I’ve been very excited about this one as it’s something different for everyone, even if you’re a regular reader here.

Those kind folks over at Wily Writers agreed to get involved with my book tour by reprinting my short story Stand Off, a yarn featuring Isiah, the protagonist from both RealmShift and MageSign. However, not only are they reprinting the story in text form, they’ve also recorded it and released it as a podcast. So for the first time one of my stories is in audio format.

I’ve just downloaded and listened to it myself. It’s very unusual to hear my work read aloud, especially in an American accent, but it’s pretty cool; Scott McGough reads very well. (I hope I spelled his name correctly there – he introduces himself in the podcast but I can’t find the name written down anywhere to check it.) My download of the podcast had a bit of repeat stutter at the beginning, but that cleared up quickly.

So if you fancy someone reading you a good story, check out:

Blog book tour Day 6 – Stand Off text and podcast at Wily Writers

Don’t forget that for the duration of the tour (until July 29th) you can get ebook editions of both RealmShift and MageSign for just US$1 each. This is an offer exclusive to Smashwords. The beauty of that is that Smashwords offer the books in a variety of formats, including Kindle friendly .mobi editions.

To get your special priced copies all you have to do is enter a discount code at the checkout. This will change the price from the usual US$3.50 to a special price of US$1. Go here for RealmShift and enter code ZR95S at the checkout; go here for MageSign and enter SF97B at the checkout. And don’t forget that you can get my novella Ghost Of The Black: A ‘Verse Full Of Scum from Smashwords for free all the time. Click here to grab your copy of that. Please spread the word about this special offer and hopefully lots of people will take advantage of getting two novels for just two bucks. Can’t say fairer than that.


Blog book tour Day 5

July 23, 2009

Today sees us at the halfway point of the book tour and so far it’s all going swimmingly. Thanks to everyone that’s been following along and those that are hosting me along the way. Some of the timing is a bit up and down, but that’s what happens when you have posts hosted in Australia, then the US and now South Africa. Ah, the interwebz truly is a global party.

Before I announce today’s post, I just wanted to point out something that may not have been very clear thus far. The early post of the tour, my interview at Smashwords, announced a special offer running throughout the tour. That special offer is that for the duration of the tour (until July 29th) you can get ebook editions of both RealmShift and MageSign for just US$1 each. This is an offer exclusive to Smashwords. The beauty of that is that Smashwords offer the books in a variety of formats, including Kindle friendly .mobi editions.

To get your special priced copies all you have to do is enter a discount code at the checkout. This will change the price from the usual US$3.50 to a special price of US$1. Go here for RealmShift and enter code ZR95S at the checkout; go here for MageSign and enter SF97B at the checkout. And don’t forget that you can get my novella Ghost Of The Black: A ‘Verse Full Of Scum from Smashwords for free all the time. Click here to grab your copy of that. Please spread the word about this special offer and hopefully lots of people will take advantage of getting two novels for just two bucks. Can’t say fairer than that.

Meanwhile, (I need a spinning Batman-style cut scene here) back on the book tour:

Today’s post is something a bit different. Joan De La Haye is an author from South Africa with a penchant for demons. Every Friday she has a Demon Friday post at her blog and talks about a different prince of hell. As demons are a theme that crops up from time to time within my books (not to mention the Devil himself being a primary character in RealmShift) Joan was kind enough to give this Demon Friday over to me. Rather than talk about a particular demon, I decided to chat about the nature of demons generally, what they are, where they come from and so on. So without further ado:

Blog book tour Day 5 – Demons and where to find them at Joan De La Haye’s blog.


Catholics shoehorn relevance into Gore’s plan

July 18, 2009

I read about this in the Sydney Morning Herald today and it gave me quite a chuckle over my cereal. The Catholic Church, along with pretty much every other religion, is no stranger to desperately shoehorning “facts” into things to keep their dogma relevant. Anyone that’s ever read the Bible knows that it takes a willful act of denial to ignore the plethora of inconsistencies, for example. However, the religious rationalisation in this article in the Herald is hilarious.

The article talks about how the Catholic church is attempting to counter God’s mighty carbon footprint with “a carbon audit of thousands of churches and parish buildings, about 1500 schools and more than 300 hospitals and aged-care facilities.” Now this is a very good thing, especially when tools like our own Cardinal George Pell (who has made appearances here on The Word before) are quite outspoken climate change sceptics. Pell has “already compared attempts to cut carbon emissions with “pagan” human sacrifice.” It’s amazing, like he’s almost trying to be as big a dickhead as possible.

Anyway, the thing that really entertained me was this part:

Providentially, perhaps, the church plan was called a “strategic, systems-based integrated initiative”, which soon became ASSISI – coinciding with the home of St Francis, patron saint of the environment.

“I was looking at the letters and I realised we could just add an ‘A’ on the front – it was one of those real ‘God’ moments,” Ms Remond said. “The Franciscans were very happy about it.”

Jacqui Remond is director of Catholic Earthcare, the national sustainability division of the church. And yes, she had a “real ‘God’ moment”. That must be a moment when you suspend any kind critical thinking and intelligence you may have to rationalise something. How the hell could she get ASSISI from “strategic, systems-based integrated initiative” by adding an A in front?

Strategic, Systems-based Integrated Initiative

Add an A in front of that and you get ASSII. So she’s added an A in front and an extra S towards the end after coming up with the most weasel worded name she could think of in the first place and then claimed it was a “real ‘God’ moment”. You know what? She’s right. What she’s done there really does compare with most religious rationalisation. Which is a shame, because what they’re doing is a really good thing. It’s just a shame that she’s turned it into a joke by desperately trying to make it relevant to her church.

Oh well, at least they might reduce some emissions in the long run. The Catholic Church can certainly afford a few solar panels.



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Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Zetetic.

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