Friday, 29 March 2013

The Bible (abridged) - Genesis

God created everything. He created humans without the ability to distinguish good from evil, told them a lie, then punished them and all their descendants (including you) for doing evil by not believing his lie. He also punished the creature who told them the truth.

So the first man and woman had two sons, and one grew crops and the other herded sheep. And both offered the very best of their respective products to God, but God was no vegetarian so he totally ignored the veggies and instead took the meat. The vegetable farmer got so angry he killed his brother which made God punish him some more.

Anyway after these first humans had populated the planet, God decided he didn’t like what he saw because they too were doing things he didn’t like, so he decided to kill everyone - men, women, children and innocent little babies, by drowning them. He also decided to drown all the animals and birds too for good measure. But instead of creating everything again he chose one man and his family, got them to build a boat and place two of every species of animal in the entire world on it, together with enough food for all of them for almost a year. Then he drowned everyone and everything else by covering the whole world with water for almost a year. After he did this however, God - who knows everything including the future and does not make mistakes - regretted what he had done and decided never to do it again so he invented rainbows to remind himself never to drown the entire world again. Just small parts of it.

Soon after the drowning was over and this man had returned all the species of animals and birds to their rightful places in the world while repopulating the planet, some people decided to build a great big tower tall enough to reach heaven. God became concerned because he thought they might succeed, so he magicked them into all getting different languages so they couldn’t understand each other any more. Still they made up for this because they lived really long lives of 500 years or more and apparently never needed Viagra despite their age.

Some time later, God chose one person completely at random - Abraham - and decided he and his descendants would be his favourites. He decided to give him Palestine as a gift, totally forgetting that there were already people living there. They’re still arguing about it to this day. In return however he and all his male descendants would have to have the tip of their weiners snipped off. So after he had brought this news to all his male relatives, who were delighted I’m sure, he and his family went to have many adventures.

In one of them, his nephew Lot ended up living in Las Vegas, only it was called Sodom back then. It was a trippy place, with pot, free love and everyone having a pretty good time. God however wasn’t pleased, probably because he wasn’t invited. So he decided to destroy the city and everyone in it. He sent two hot looking guy angels over to Sodom to (a) warn Lot to get away, and (b) destroy the whole cities with everyone in them. Including the animals and trees this time too. So the two twinks went over to Lot’s house, but while they were there, a group of partying men wanted them to come out and have sex. Lot, who was extremely holy, offered them his own daughters instead. The crowd weren’t interested in them however, so Lot and his wife and daughters left the city and the angels told them not to look back. As soon as they were out, the angels started killing everybody using burning molten sulphur - even the little children. When Lot’s wife heard the screaming and turned to look back, God killed her too. So Lot and his daughters went into a cave where promptly Lot got drunk, had sex with both his daughters and knocked them both up. But that wasn't as bad as looking back so God said "carry on".

In the meantime Abraham’s wife got mysteriously pregnant. Abraham heard a voice in his head telling him to kill his son and he happily agreed, tying him up and was about to gut him when a stranger stopped him. And this shows what a good man Abraham was.

Long after, twin boys were born and one day the younger boy stole his older brother’s inheritance. He’s the ancestor of all Jews today.  His name was Jacob but his friends called him Israel, and he had 12 sons. One of them had a nice coat and they made a musical about it. His brothers sold him to some passing merchants, which was perfectly normal back then, but he had interesting dreams that got him a job with the Egyptian pharaoh (they didn’t have TV back then). After bringing all the other brothers with him to Egypt, they and their descendants settled there. This would turn out to be a bad decision but that's another story.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Vatican Idol 2013

In about a month, a group of people wearing funny hats will meet to choose who among them will wear the funniest hat of all - the contest to find out who will be the winner of this edition of Vatican Idol is on!

Seriously though... In front of them will be a fundamental choice: Should they choose another conservative pope who will further alienate what Catholics remain, as well as the rest of society in places where the church retains a significant presence, or should they try to go for a more liberal/progressive pope who may stem the tide of people leaving the church? The latter could alienate those conservatives within the church and possibly have to declare that the church has (gasp) changed its mind on a thing or two. It's not easy for the church to do this - it took them 350 years to admit that, in the end, Galileo had been right about the earth and the sun.

I've heard many people who are opposed to the catholic church say that they would welcome a conservative pope since he'd hasten the church's demise. However one can't ignore the fact that the church can still exert quite a bit of pressure in some places, and having an ultra-conservative pope would perpetuate the problems being faced by several groups, including gays, women and non-Catholics.

Personally I would prefer a more reasonable, modern church which lasts longer and gets along better with people, than an intolerant church that causes more suffering but has a shorter lifespan.

A conservative pope is made likely by the simple fact that it is the pope who chooses the cardinals who will ultimately choose the next pope - and the current and previous popes were both very conservative and between them selected mostly dinosaurs. At the same time it's hard to miss the fact that the church is getting increasingly out of touch with reality. The pace at which society is changing has speeded up dramatically in recent times. The change from the Roman Empire to mediaeval Europe was relatively minor compared to the last 230 years, in which we've gone from the first human flight in a balloon, to people going out in space and not even making the news. 40 years ago, homosexuality was still a crime in Malta, while in 2011, a majority of the Maltese people - many of whom describe themselves as Catholics - went against the church's instructions (not to mention fire-and-brimstone warnings) and voted to introduce divorce.

In this context, a church that is still arguing against the use of condoms, insisting that priests must possess a penis (but they must never use it except for urination), and that two men or two women cannot possibly love each other just as a man and a woman can, is way out of touch. In fact the only thing that can be said in their defence is that there are churches that are even wackier, which is not exactly glowing praise.

In the meantime, an interesting development is that there is an increased likelihood that the new pope will be, for the first time, African. I've already seen a comment or two from people who are shocked that the pope could be black (isn't God white after all?) - though they generally avoid the B-word. Personally I'm a bit concerned that certain African contenders were behind, or supported, Uganda's new law to make homosexuality a capital offence. On the plus side he might do something about the dreary church music by injecting a few new rhythms from Africa.

In the meantime, while speculation is rife, Facebook users cheerfully share pictures of various people in papal vestments, from Silvio Berlusconi to Tony Blair top Austin Gatt (the pope who will never resign) - all of which reinforce what most people already know - that the Roman Catholic Church has become for many people a comical figure, as anachronistic as a knight in full armour going to work in his office.