Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…

I belong to that group of individuals who believe that banning something only serves to push it underground and make it more desirable.

So it is with this in mind that I’m a little disturbed by an article in the Mail & Guardian about the banning of witchcraft and exploitation emanating from superstitious beliefs, by a political lobby group in the Indian state of Maharashtra.

Chanting to cure snakebites, claiming to be a reincarnated spouse to obtain sex, and charging for miracles could soon be banned by an Indian state seeking to stop charlatans preying on the vulnerable.

Many superstitions are widely held in India but a campaign group is lobbying hard for a new law in the western state of Maharashtra to outlaw several exploitative activities, with penalties of fines or up to seven years in jail. [more here]

According to the article, religious groups are already arguing that the banning is an attack on their religious freedoms. They will undoubtedly find support in the large Hindu population who thrive on superstition and archaic religious belief. The banning will ultimately only give their primitive needs added impetus when it becomes taboo.

While the proponents of the legislation known as Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and Other Inhuman, Evil Practices and Black Magic Bill, mean well, they could in fact be causing more harm.

It’s not a pleasant situation to be in, and is a damning indictment on mankind which is still prone to being deceived by religious charlatans, mostly through their own ignorance.

The rest of us are damned if we do something about it and damned if we don’t.

Antonio Federici – my kinda ice cream

In the news today is an award-winning British ice cream manufacturer that intends defying an Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ban on one of their clever magazine adverts, by “placing similar posters along the route of the Pope’s London visit.”

The banned advert depicted a pregnant nun eating Antonio Federici ice cream in a church, with the words “Immaculately Conceived” emblazoned on one side of the picture. Apparently it took just 10 prissy readers (presumably Catholic) to get ASA to pull the plug on the advert. Which leaves me wondering why a certain other religion always requires thousands of their followers to rampage through the streets in cities across the world, threatening murder and mayhem, every time they feel offended by similar harmless caricatures.

What I find curious about the banning is the reason given by the ASA: “for ‘making a mockery’ of the beliefs of Roman Catholics.’ This would imply that mere beliefs, no matter how ridiculous, are somehow sacrosanct, especially if they emanate from a religious quarter. Applying the same set of rules, spaghetti adverts should also be banned because they make a mockery of the beliefs of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Taking this reasoning to its ultimate conclusion, science is in great danger of being banned outright because scientific discoveries every day, make a mockery of many religious beliefs.

In fact many of us are all too aware of a large number of religious organizations that would dearly like to see just that: the status of science reduced to a level lower than common superstition and religious belief, or even banned outright.

As for the intentions of the manufacturers of Antonio Federici ice cream to accost the Pope with similar saucy adverts, on his much-maligned trip to Britain, I don’t think his Eminence will be too shocked, seeing as how he accommodates the sexual antics of the priests in his charge.

However, I am still really enamored of this ice cream brand because of the response the company gave to the ASA when the advert was banned. The said that they wished to

comment on and question, using satire and gentle humour, the relevance and hypocrisy of religion and the attitudes of the church to social issues.

Now those are the words of a mighty progressive company, in a typically stuffy country. In future, every time I indulge in some Gelato, those words will resonate through my mind. So, anybody knows where I can get some of this fantastic ice cream?

Maybe Censorship Should be Banned

I recently came across a link to a site where Philip Pullman, author of Northern Lights, better known as The Golden Compass (adapted into a film of the same name starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig), discusses how his book was challenged by various, mainly religious bodies, who demanded it be banned from the public library. Apparently, this bunch of ignorant theists deemed the book to be anti-religious.

Phillip goes on to recount how a group called the Catholic League objected to the release of the film which did result in bad box office takings, but sales of his book went up quite significantly. Even a bishop from La Crosse County, Jerome Listecki, warned Catholics not to see the film, ludicrously claiming that the movie was just “the first part of a trilogy that expresses hatred of Christianity and that portrays God, the church and religion as evil and oppressive, and urges children to join fallen angels in a rebellion against God.”

The Golden Compass is not the first book to attract such a vicious and absurd backlash from the religious hate-mongers, nor will it be the last. The successful Harry Potter series of novels has attracted disdain from the lunatic religious fringe in recent times, and don’t forget the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini calling for the killing of Salman Rushdie, author of Midnight’s Children and the Satanic Verses. This kind of dark ages mentality is indicative of the lengths that the religious wing nuts are prepared to resort to, in defense of a severely discredited and hate-filled dogma known mundanely as religion.

Phillip Pullman quite correctly points out that the “inevitable result of trying to ban something – book, film, play, pop song, whatever – is that far more people want to get hold of it than would ever have done if it were left alone.” This simple fact however will not stop the lunatics from trying. Although all progressive (mostly democratic) countries propagate free speech, religions in these countries, enjoys unwarranted protection from being criticised. And it gets worse. These same self-appointed “keepers of morality” demand the right to decide what should be published, what should be censored, even what is taught in schools. In reality, even statistics show that those who proclaim to be the most religious are invariably the most corrupt and immoral.

Phillip sums it up quite nicely as follows:

“In fact, when it comes to banning books, religion is the worst reason of the lot. Religion, uncontaminated by power, can be the source of a great deal of private solace, artistic inspiration, and moral wisdom. But when it gets its hands on the levers of political or social authority, it goes rotten very quickly indeed. The rank stench of oppression wafts from every authoritarian church, chapel, temple, mosque, or synagogue – from every place of worship where the priests have the power to meddle in the social and intellectual lives of their flocks, from every presidential palace or prime ministerial office where civil leaders have to pander to religious ones.”

“My basic objection to religion is not that it isn’t true; I like plenty of things that aren’t true. It’s that religion grants its adherents malign, intoxicating and morally corrosive sensations. Destroying intellectual freedom is always evil, but only religion makes doing evil feel quite so good.”