November 30, 2007

Plush Toys are Better Than Prophets

There's been talk here and there about the arrest, conviction and sentencing about a British school teacher in Sudan who is now going to jail for allowing a classroom full of children to name a teddy bear Mohammed. Originally facing a charges of blasphemy and inciting hatred against Islam, she has been convicted on the lesser charge of "insulting the faith of Muslims" and so now faces 15 days in a Sudanese prison followed by expulsion from the country instead of the greater punishment of six months in prison and 40 lashes. I wouldn't imagine that 15 days in a Sudanese prison is going to be a picnic either, but at least it's a bit less horrible and barbaric than what she was facing.

How utterly impotent this Muslim deity must be, in any case, to need defending against a 54 year old school teacher, a handful of children and a teddy bear. If this omnipotent godhead didn't like having a cuddly plush toy named after it, surely Allah could have meted out a fitting punishment on its own or — here's an idea! — prevented the whole thing from happening in the first place.

Ironically, Mohammed is one of the most common names in the Arab-speaking world. Parents name their children Mohammed every day and don't face criminal charges for doing so, even though a number of those children will surely turn out not nearly so innocent as a teddy bear. Why is this the case? If a toy can't be named after a deity, why can a human be so named?

A teddy bear is, after all, much more like a god than is a human being. Teddy bears, like pure and perfect deities, never go to the bathroom. They never have sex. They don't speak untruthful words. They never steal, murder, or eat foods that haven't been sanctioned by some religion's dietary code. Human beings regularly do those things, even when they profess faith in Islam and are named Mohammed. To name a person Mohammed, then, would seem far more blasphemous than to give that name to an inanimate object.

Then again, how can one heap enough insults upon an entity that claims to rule over the entire universe yet needs threats of violence and criminal prosecutions to defend it against school teachers? Assuming the existence of such an entity in the first place (which I clearly do not), it would be rather egotistical of said spirit-in-the-sky to set itself up as an all-powerful being; clearly, a Sudanese judge is more powerful than the deity since it took a Sudanese judge to decide on punishment on behalf of this Allah character. Of course, this sort of thing has gone on historically throughout any number of religions. Christians, Jews, Hindus... everybody's doing it! Hindus kings used to impale Jains on stakes. Jews seem to have favored stonings. Christians were fond of burning and hanging those who committed some infraction, real or imagined, against their deity of choice. Not once has the deity shown up in a courtroom to give testimony in a single case. Hmmm, why might that be?

But we're supposed to respect this sort of thing. It's a matter of faith, and faith, not being amenable to question from those who hold other beliefs or who eschew them entirely, has to be taken at face value. When it isn't, the true believers are prone to commit acts of violence or froth at the mouth in some benighted quest for justice. The thing is, omnipotent beings don't need protection, only ideas that can't stand up to scrutiny do. This school teacher didn't "insult Islam," she called its tenets into question in the minds of some of its adherents, albeit inadvertently, and it is solely for that "crime" that she now faces punishment. I have no doubt this happened in part because she was already an outsider to these people; they were waiting for her to make that one false move and then pounced at the first opportunity.

So, what about this should we respect, then? The impotent god part, the fear of questioning, or the utter lack of humor? I'm not sure what the good thing is here. I can't see the part where chucking someone in jail over the naming of a toy by some little children and taking those children's teacher away from them does anything good for the world, for the children, or for the country in which this occurred. All I can see is a bunch of frightened, superstitious, utterly irrational nonsense. That these kinds of insane punishments are given out under the guise of protecting religion all the time doesn't make religion itself look like its founded on anything desirable. We have this thing in Sudan; we have the sheer lunatic horror of a woman who was gang-raped being punished for violating a religious law in Saudi Arabia. Yes, that's certainly rational and something that any omnibeneficent deity would certainly condone. We get people like Pat Robertson calling for divine retribution against Dover, PA when Creationism was barred from schools there — and don't think for a minute that he and those like him wouldn't be gleefully burning those who question his faith, or at least treating them in a manner quite similar to this latest outrage from Sudan. Personally, I can remember a time about 20 years ago when one couldn't drive one's car down 18th Avenue in Brooklyn on a Saturday because Hasidic Jews in the neighborhood had begun taking it upon themselves to throw rocks at those who transgressed their Sabbath. See, it's never enough that the believers believe; everyone must believe, or at least act as if they did.

No, I don't respect beliefs. I see no reason to buy into the fairy tales that I see at the heart of religion and I see no reason to act as if I did. Those who want to have their beliefs go unquestioned should keep them to themselves and not discuss them with non-believers, and they certainly should attempt to convince others that they should believe. That's nothing but an opportunity to have one's beliefs dissected and quite possibly refuted.

As far as the efforts of Sudanese authorities to prevent insult to Islam, then, I should say they've done a pretty lousy job of it. Had they simply left this school teacher alone, life would have gone on and nothing much would have happened. In their zeal to insure that their faith go unchallenged, however, they have only insured that it will be insulted, it will be mocked, by thinking people all over the world. Here's an example: if there is anything in Islam that requires the incarceration of teachers over the naming of teddy bears, then that religion is a worthless piece of garbage and the Koran should be balled up and chucked into the trash so that humanity may be improved the world over.

Damn, I guess this means I'll have to cancel my plans to tour Khartoum and Teheran on vacation. Ah well; I can at least still take a trip to the Creationist Museum of Hogwash and Inanity in Kentucky.

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