Monday, April 29, 2013

In Which a Stranger Surprises My Acting Class With Inane Babble

Gentle readers: those who know me have perhaps heard about my many encounters with the cosmologically deluded ad nauseum. It will come as little surprise to hear a long-winded story from me on a new radical and rude attempt by yet another Trinity Troglodyte to pervade an otherwise lovely day with celestial chit-chat. However, my friends, in all my years of studying and writing about the supernatural and those who exemplify it, I have not come across an episode as ludicrous and eerily entertaining (despite the fact that the debacle put my teeth on edge) as that which occurred this morning.

(To those who are curious, I am equally passionate about my studies in theatre as I am about my work in atheism. Theatre is a primary instigator for social change. If you want to learn about the human condition, theatrical literature is key.)

To set the scene: class is preparing. Acting IV, under the supervision of Dr. Randy Bolton, is a usually grim affair. Our enthusiasm toward the material and our coordinated execution of it this semester has been, to use our darling professor's encouraging statement: "...a fucking shame". After weeks of this, and with our new introduction to the works of Chekhov, it's rare that our energy has even been affable, let alone enjoyable. Only the fact that our group is made of a decently tight-knit, steadfast throng of friends has pushed us through an arduous work-load. In summation: a Monday morning can be a dreary event as we traipse into our work space. Today specifically, several actors were prepping the playing space for their scene while the rest of us readied ourselves to take notes. Dr. Bolton had saddled himself, rather like a grumpier version of Falstaff, in center with an air of impatience. Then, the unthinkable occurred. 

Enter, a young man whose general flamboyance and reliance on the use of fringe with his vest marks him as an obvious homosexual, complete with pointed boots and a sibilant 's'. The boots in particular are important, because their general clopping on the tile floor of the space, empowered with the impeccable acoustics of what once might have been an empty swimming pool, reverberated in such a way that all of our attention was immediately drawn to the stranger in our midst. Such an entrance would have done Gypsy Rose Lee proud. The attitude set by his focused eyes and determined face might have suited him for an episode of a Ru Paul reality show, were it not for the copy of the Bible under his arm (I simply cannot recall to memory another book that uses purple, iridescent gilding on the edge of the pages, so perhaps I was wrong . . . but it's not likely). He strides with all the parade of Cleopatra to the center of the space, while both the students who were watching and the actors who were literally seconds away from beginning a complex scene ogled him, slack-jawed. 

Now, comrades, I have long called the clamor of anyone on a religious soapbox mere claptrap, but I tell you without exaggeration -- whatever this man was saying was frankly unintelligible. Holding his index finger toward the sky, he began (to the best of my memory): 

"There is one [G]od! . . . My parents were biblical literalists . . . And what is so logical? . . . That there is one . . . and heaven knows it, and you! . . . " etc, etc, ad infinitum. 

The sheer audacity of it was astounding. All of us seemed to be pulled in two opposing, all-encompassing directions of thought: was he joking or was he serious? He couldn't be serious, could he? Did some random student in all actuality barge into the beginning of a university lecture and dribble us with his religious salivation? It had to have been a joke. It must have been. But as the seconds elapsed, we suddenly realized that if it was a joke, it was one poorly executed and with ever poorer taste -- and as the time stretched into a minute, we were met with the simultaneously infuriating and hilarious epiphany that this was exactly what it looked like. 

I would hazard a guess that the two shortest tempers in the room at the time belonged to Dr. Bolton and myself (and I am sure my classmates wouldn't have much argument to this), but even he, the Strindbergian bulldog himself, with all the pomp of a Ph.D., seemed so perplexed by the ego of this young man that all he could do was wave (nearly politely!) and say: "Goodbye." We, who had expected tempests from Randy, who would bellow instantaneously at a dropped line, were grimly disappointed by the near insouciance of our corpulent professor. I, myself, could feel my patience wearing thin at being captive to this nonsense, but whatever I might have said or done was made infinitely useless by the unexpected grace of Dr. Bolton. The boy, clopping as though he were a cast member of The Devil Wears Prada, exited, while laughter and confusion exploded behind him. 

One of our compatriots made the unintentional comment: "Ah, come back!" completely in levity. This, apparently, was all the young acolyte needed and immediately turned on his heel and returned to us, once again picking up his speech! Suddenly, he runs to the piano, bangs a few notes, and yells: "How is that for drama?! God is drama!" Disappointingly, another wave from Dr. Bolton, coupled with a perhaps-more-irritated: "Enough." was all he received. With another swish, the paradoxically Phelpsian disciple left. 

Not thirty seconds had passed, seconds during which we were all still in confused shock, when a knocking sounded. 

Without waiting for a response, I leaped for the door, a string of expletives barreling into my mouth. The others in the class found the distraction hysterical, and I must admit that the absurdity of the situation had a bit of dark comedy, but the reality was becoming more clear to me as the shock faded. The ego was indescribable! What gave him the right to . . . oh, nevermind: god had, of course. Isn't that always the case? In courtyards and in classrooms, can we never be rid of people who think that they have the right to do and say anything because the almighty writes them a pass? The subjectivity, the audacity, the petulance . . . ah, those who care about the details of that particular rant can always read my book. For the subject of this story-telling, gentle reader, I am sure you get the point. 

Opening the door, there stood before me our friendly neighborhood boor, whose smiling face instantly vanished when he saw the look on mine. "Can I . . . ?" was all he was able to say before I violently whispered at him: "Go the fuck away." and slammed the door in his face. Dr. Bolton's impatience to begin scene work was palpable, or else I might have been more verbose. Namely, what did that weighty book he was touting say about his particular sexual orientation, or could that have been why he looked so damn familiar to me? I wouldn't make the accusation without being sure, my friends, but I am unconvinced that he wasn't a lusty conquest of mine at one time in the last year. If only my memory for such things wasn't so abominable -- but I am sure the good lord has marked it down thoroughly and we'll all three discuss it later over cucumber sandwiches... 

We've seen them on street corners, in campus squares, knocking at our doorsteps and now clopping, uninvited, into our classrooms. Once the laughter dies away, it is clear that the argument, the one I have been making louder and louder for the last couple of years, is ever more important. It should not stop being discussed until we either recognize the authority by which these charlatans claim access to our eyes and ears, or strip them of it forever. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Poem

To The Prophets, All

O! the words of greater men
Are weaker, yes, by far
Than charmers—mystics wild-eyed,
If in the desert they espied
A burning bush or star. 

Muhammad, in his wisdom great
For business may have been.
But if in deserts one has heard
An angel’s voice with verse immured—
Can he then judge my sin?

A wandering, drooling madman then
Is such a prophet, he—
Who would partake in blank delight
The whimsy of an insane night
And then prescribe it me?

No farther in the dredge of time
Should we sojourn for truth.
Behind this merchant: bloody psalms
With screams and nail-impal├ęd palms
And men condemned in youth.

We are such things as dreams are made,
Though life in dreams is nice—
When roused in mornings with a smile
The sun still rises all the while
Without a sacrifice.

So, foolish men who came before
With heads stuck in the sky:
Your heaven blurred your view of stars,
But I shall see despite your scars—
No Son for me did die.

And should such thoughts condemn me now,
I shall with patience go—
No frothy-mouthed advice most queer
Will fill my heart with empty fear
Or curse me with your woe.
I’ll have a lived the life of love
You swore I could not know.

-Joshua Kelly

Friday, April 19, 2013

In Which I Am Interviewed By The Kaimin

The Montana Kaimin, the independent newspaper of the University of Montana, was very kind enough to give me an interview regarding the release of the book. My friend, Callan Berry (who, I might add, is a fabulously talented cartoon artist and writer) was the inquisitor. Take a look!

We sat down with University of Montana junior Joshua Kelly to talk about his soon-to-be-released book, “Oh! Your God.” Here’s what he had to say.

Montana Kaimin: I hear you are coming out with a book soon.

Joshua: I am indeed. It is called: “Oh! Your God. The Evil Idea that is Religion.” It will be released by Dangerous Little Books at the end of April or beginning of May, if everything stays on track like it’s been scheduled.

MK: What’s it about?

J: It’s a non-fiction observation that essentially lays out my argument as to why the idea of God is evil. Quite often people use the straw man argument of organized religion or dogma and say that human beings have warped religion, turned it into something evil. They have made it into a grotesque thing, which it was not so previously, and this is not the case. It’s astounding how many people who call themselves people of faith — no matter what their particular brand of poison — have not read their own holy text, or chose to skip over pieces of them that are less then appraising. And so the book is an examination of all these pieces — anecdotally, historically, socially, and theologically — that lays out the argument that there is no such thing as a good religion. Or one that is wholly untainted by pieces of humanity that we despise most, namely racism and sexism, entropy, chaos, violence, etc.

MK: So it’s not religion that’s the problem but the people behind it?

J: No, it’s the exact inverse. The thing you hear the most often is a person says “Well these bad things are done in the name of God,” and quite often it is the holy texts themselves that mandate these terrible actions. For example, people became much more aware of this after 9/11, the interest in Islamophobia, Islamofacism and the subjective verses of the Quran that essentially entail Jihad. People began to be much more commercially invested in them, but forgetting, of course, the Quran is essentially a mockup of the Old Testament itself, and that the very same verses that condemn what we now know outside of Islam as infidels or apostates to the faith are actually drawn from verses of Deuteronomy, where God of Hebrew and Christian religions tell us to bludgeon and stone and destroy all non-believers, whether or not they are people in our faith, or people we love, family. That’s just an example to show that it is not what people do with religion but religions themselves that are the poisonous influence.

MK: How long have you been writing this?

J: I started in February of last year, and finished in August. I think it will be about 250 pages in its finished typeset edition — because it’s non-fiction I think it needs to be a readable chunk. I’ve found some books that just drown you in text, and you just never get to the end of them. And so I try and keep the argument succinct as possible.

MK: What’s it like balancing school and publishing a book?

J: Easier than you’d expect. I got lucky that the book was picked up by a publishing company, as opposed to self-publishing. If I had done self-publishing, I would be doing all the work itself, and it would be a much more arduous process. Dangerous Little Books has taken very good care of me. I don’t have very much to do with it at all.

MK: Anything else you would like to say?

J: Umm … No.

MK: Buy it?

J: You should definitely buy it.

“Oh, Your God! The Evil Idea that is Religion” by UM student Joshua Kelly will be available at all major book retailers soon.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

On Ballocks and Bull-horns

Let's make one thing absolutely clear: I live and die by the First Amendment. There is no civil liberty more precious to me than the ability to express what I think through voice and pen. So it is, when I see someone else exercising the same treasured right, be they Richard Dawkins or Fred Phelps, I am sincerely happy that I live in a country where such practice is not only permissible, but protected by the first godless Constitution in the history of the world. 

Aside from this throat-clearing, my heart admittedly sinks every time I walk around into a brisk Montana afternoon and find, in the public speech square of the University of Montana, a gaggle of gnomish men decked to the nines with bulletins and microphones, standing atop plastic step-stools and shrieking that god's wrath upon homosexuals is nigh; the only true love is through Jesus; there is only one authority . . . blah-de-blahsphemy. It instantaneously turns me into a capricious, epistemological Jekyll-and-Hyde, wherein half of me wants to run away and clear my ear canals of their banal nonsense, another half wants to stay and fight; half of me wishes to pummel them with bare fists, another half concedes their right to their opinion and their ability to express (regurgitate?) it and let them be. I become a creature unlike myself -- and the side that wants to knock them down a few pegs always wins out. Indeed, I missed a decently important class last semester because, once this nonsense began, no appointment academic or otherwise would deter me. 

Today, when the same event occurred, I was happily greeted by several standers-by who knew me, laughed and shouted at my arrival, and threw me into the square. Even standing by yourself in a ring of people (I would say perhaps 40 at the height of the drama), it is difficult to get the attention of the masses. Only by interrupting the winded old walrus at a moment of breath-catching was I able to insert: 

"Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Joshua Kelly: I am the author of the book Oh, Your god!: The Evil Idea That Is Religion..."

While no one in the crowd had obviously read the book (it doesn't come out until the end of this month), there was a good bit of clapping at laughter at this. Much like a joke in rehearsal, one forgets how funny it actually is until one receives an audience to test it out on. This was encouraging. 

It is essential to lead with the point of Matthew 6:1 -- Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. This immediately gives one leverage in the debate, because it undermines the ability of the preacher to have any divine justification for anything he says. I must throw a point for this to Logan LaCross, who was walking with me at the time and who brought to mind this point before we had even got there. I hurriedly gave him the wrong verse and we went to look it up before we dove into the battle. I've used it many times in such instances, but leading with it was entirely his idea and very effective. Much kudos to him. 

From there, unfortunately, the structure quickly disintegrates. Once you score a point like this, they will not forgive you (ironic for their ideology) and never give you the chance to score another hit again. So, between one old man caterwauling indeterminably into his megaphone, and a group of well-meaning (and frankly, hysterical) students passionately reading excerpts of The Curry Center Handbook for Students and The Joys of Lesbian Sex, there was little room for further times to tap in well-aimed arguments. I was shut up a couple of times by the cacophony, and managed to get a few decently pointed remarks in before finally losing my appetite and leaving. Much like junk-food, arguing with the zealous is great fun, but too much will develop into indigestion. 

Because of this, I yearn for a formal debate. Believe me, in a setting where these idiots require structure and arguments other than theological, wherein they cannot rant and froth at the mouth like the schizophrenics whose books they follow, there is no ground for them to stand on. If anyone reading this has the interest or ability in making this happen, I am more than fair game. 

But something rather remarkable happened -- more importantly than several people coming up to me, asking for my information and where to buy the book on its release (which was flattering and very nice), it never fails to inspire me to see a group of people united against outright hatred, who join arms and voices and passions to silence the foul croaking of dogmatic injustice wherever it rears its ugly head -- even in our own little patch of Montana. There is something painfully poetic when even those who do not know the Bible will argue only by means of empathy -- further proof that divine mandate is not required for a person to know the difference between right and wrong. Even the most unlettered, crude, or hilarious retorts were appreciated by me as they all came from a place of equality, love, and justice. It was heartening. 

And, if I were to press the point slightly more politically: I am not even sure that it is within the First Amendment rights of these ethically inept toads to do this in the first place. Sure, the Free Speech Zone on campus is available to anyone and is restricted only in speaking time and volume, but the kind of babble that we hear from these people is not merely offensive, it's discriminatory. And beyond this, we attend a secular campus and therefore are not required to endure this claptrap by way of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The sooner everyone involved, from every student to the campus President understands this, the better. Not being a law student myself, I am willing to bet there are better and more acute arguments that might support this hunch. 

In fact, I think I'll be writing a letter to the administration tonight...

Either way, it is a bittersweet thing -- I am always keen for the opportunity to sharpen the argument against new and old opponents, but the process is always exhausting. The only thing that keeps one going is the knowledge that, while they certainly haven't changed the minds of the ersatz mullahs they are debating with, they might have lightened (or, dare I say, enlightened) a few of those listening on. These events are minute drops in an ocean of very small victories, but are always worth fighting for, nonetheless. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Little Bit O' Homo

While the Supreme Court rulings over DOMA and Proposition 8 are still in contention, it seems that there is once again a massive uproar over the definition of marriage in the United States, both in a secular and moral context. It also has inspired a purge of "friends" on Facebook who have had the sheer bigoted audacity to post nonsense like "Defend Traditional Marriage" (which I shall talk about more soon). Let me be one of the many who say that this claptrap needs to stop -- if only because the arguments against same-sex marriage are so inane that they merit laughter. I've decided today to examine three of the primary arguments against gay marriage (from the religious) that have given me the biggest headaches, so that in so doing we might implore the opposition to hone their argument to something more sharp and understandable. 

"Gay marriage is against [G]od..."

Where to begin? The contradictions in this statement are too manifold to highlight in one blog, but I'll try my best: 

As moderate Christians, are you really going to blatantly focus on this one antiquated verse and ignore the rest? We shall remember this as you protest outside wearing mixed-fabric clothing, just before eating a shrimp cocktail during lunch, or playing some football in the park, or getting a haircut, or receiving a tattoo (all of which are forbidden in Leviticus and Deuteronomy). And oh, my bigoted friends: your work to avoid hypocrisy is still ahead of you -- death to all who dishonor your father or mother! Do not walk up altars with stairs! Treat your women like you treat your livestock!

Wait . . . you mean to say no one is paying attention to any of this? Hmmm. Then, to quote Jack Black in Prop 8: The Musical: "Well, friend, it seems to me: you pick and choose." Let's be very clear, ladies and gentlemen: the moral advice of people who ignore great segments of their own barbaric laws in order to focus on whatever pieces of divine legislation give them license to dominate the lives of others is not worth consideration. 

"We must defend marriage as it traditionally prescribed by [G]od..."

Oh, must we? By all means. Let's begin: 

In a union, as per the laws dictated by god to us, we are at liberty to:
1.) sell our daughters into sexual slavery (Exodus 21:7-11)
2.) prevent our wives from being coveted, just like our asses, donkeys, and houses. (Deut. 20:5-7) 
3.) murder a bride who was discovered not to be virginal (Deut. 22:13-21)
4.) only marry people who were believers. (whether this pertains to members of different denominations is now unclear.) (Ezra 9:12)
5.) marry the brother of your husband if your husband is to die before knocking you up. (This is less of a liberty and actually a divine command. Keep it in the family!) (Deut. 25:5-10)

Tip of the iceberg, my friends. But this is enough to be getting on with. So, here's our plan of action. Let us demand that Congress instill these mandates and tribal regulations into the definition of marriage, so that traditional marriage may indeed be defended in its whole and prescribed context. 

What? None of the faithful wish to make this so? Well, what a surprise . . . 

Beyond this, it is a puerile and backwards statement to defend traditional marriage -- it isn't under attack. Those who wish to seek perfectly inbred, monotheistic unions are completely at liberty to do so (I obviously use the word "inbred" glibly as that, in many states, is rightfully illegal; nor is it widespread dogma to make incest routine, though we can think of a few examples of holy families that have taken this convenient route). To open the grand scope of the commitment of human love to same-sex couples in no way threatens, diminishes, or attacks the staple of heterogamy that our darling theist friends cling to so heavily. 

"The Bible says . . ." 

Let me stop you, right there -- and perhaps I should have led with this point, and thereby saved myself all of the typing above. I will say it very slowly, so as no one will miss the subtext and hidden meanings behind this statement: 


We do not live in a theocracy. We do not live in a religious democracy. We do not even live in a secular democracy "inspired by the moralities of god". We live in a country that founded the first godless Constitution in the history of the world, whose founding fathers were skeptics and who gave us the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. We do not have to care what the Bible says in this country: that is the be all and end all of your morality -- not everyone else's. It is not a consideration. It is not a matter of legislative discussion. 

This could not be more tangibly clear -- and, indeed, it is the point of contention that most flummoxes me when having this argument. If the opposition is to have any hope of success with dignity, then they will need to immediately discard the Bible and argue on a secular level: because that is how this country works. And we know it has reached a point of inanity when even Bill O'Reilly, the most dog-headed conservative in the history of Fox News, can say: "The compelling argument is on the side of the homosexuals. 'We're American's, we just want to be treated like everyone else.' That is a compelling argument. And to deny that, you've got to have a very strong argument on the other side. And the other side hasn't been able to do anything except thump the Bible."

Well, holy shit...

Take a knee, oh ye faithful. Re-evaluate your position. If you don't like homosexual marriage or think the act is unethical: fine. Find a better way to argue it than holding up Stone Age texts and demanding we adhere to them. Find some clause in reason, human solidarity, empathy, or objective justice that supports your claim, and fight from that platform. 

Though, I must say: your opponents already have those bases covered. And that's how we are going to win.