With absolutely no permission from David Vance's often excellent blog; 'A Tangled Web', here is an interesting piece:
''Al Azhar University in Egypt is regarded as the highest centre for Sunni learning in the world. So it's interesting to read that a cleric at this university has decreed that any two people who act out an Islamic marriage on screen, effectively get married in real life. This poses a problem for any actress who is already married as it means she would be committing polygamy, legal for Muslim men but not Muslim women, and of course a previously unmarried actress would have to divorce her actor "husband" before she could marry in real life.''
So what can we learn from this? Well first of all we learn that organised religion has absolutely no place in the real world. The type of semantics illustrated above would disgrace a couple of five year olds in the school playground.
And secondly we learn that, nonsensical though this decree is, it probably isn't any dafter than edicts on contraception, abortion, circumcision, trans-substantiation, confession, homosexuality, evolutionary theory and stem-cell research, none of which are subjects which a bunch of clerics (usually frustrated bachelors) should even be discussing, never mind decreeing on.
It's happening again -- corporate monster takes on internet behemoth. Viacom (amongst others) aren't happy that Youtube are hosting clips of it's TV shows and music videos, and raking in advertising revenue in the process. So they've fired off a $1 billion lawsuit. Surely it would be much more sensible for Youtube to introduce a nominal annual charge of say $20 US to allow full access and uploading of anything legal? That way they could placate the majors, keep a bit for themselves and still pull in some advertising.
There's also an advantage for the majors in that Youtube undoubtedly drives traffic in their direction. Take music videos for example. Youtube has proved an absolute treasure trove for music videos (vintage and current) and live clips dating right back to the 60s. It's a little slice of heaven for devoted fans and I'm positive it increases demand for live shows and back catalogue. I doubt many would baulk at a small annual fee for the chance to watch material unavailable or hard to source elsewhere. Surely everyone's a winner here?
Unfortunately such a solution has yet to be reached and Viacom etc are attempting to put the genie back in the box in much the same way as the music industry attacked the likes of Napster a few years back. The future is now and working out a formula beneficial to all is surely preferable to messy courtroom battles where only the fat lawyers will come out smiling.
''It asserts that 75m years ago an evil galactic warlord called Xenu rounded up 13.5 trillion beings from an overpopulated corner of the galaxy, flew them to Earth and dumped them in volcanoes and vaporised them with nuclear bombs. This scattered their radioactive souls, or thetans, which were then trapped and implanted with a number of false ideas — including the concepts of God, Christ and organised religion. These entities attached themselves to human beings and are at the root of our personal and global problems today. ''
So where does this rather strange idea originate? A script from the X-Files or Torchwood? Star Trek maybe? Nope -- this is the core belief of scientology -- the world's fastest growing religion, which, despite it's name, has no connection with actual science. As of today, scientology has 120 000 members in the UK and over 10 million worldwide. To get that into perspective, that's the population of Ireland, north and south -- twice.
A further quote:
''Scientology has proved exceptionally robust and has grown steadily since its launch. In America it dominates entire towns and even in Britain some children have been brought up as Scientologists. What worries critics most is the religion’s secrecy and intolerance of dissent. Members who are critical of the church are declared “apostates” and are excommunicated and often cut off from family and friends who must “disconnect” from them. ''
The above paragraph sounds a lot more familiar. On this level, scientology begins to look more like 'normal' religions. Secrecy, fear of criticism, insularity, shunning of those who dare to question, all steming from the absurd idea that any one person can know more than another about 'belief.' In other words, the twisting of a religious ideal for the purpose of control over others.
Reading the first paragraph again, most non-scientologists would immediately dismiss this 'belief' as being lunacy. But is it?
50 million Mormons believe that a schizophrenic womaniser was able to translate the book of Mormon using magic glasses. 100 million Muslims believe that martyrdom results in the attentions of 50 virgins in the afterlife. 100 million Roman Catholics believe that bread and wine literally becomes the body of Christ. 30 million Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Christ returned to the earth in 1915 but appeared only to Jehovah's Witnesses. 100 million Buddhists believe that we are constantly reborn as a different animal until we reach a state of perfection.
Given this lot, does scientology really sound so daft? The only real difference is it's age.
So why do people believe this stuff? A major reason is irrational egotism, an inflated importance of the individual self. We really think that we're so important that we deserve not only a supernatural explanation for our existence, but an afterlife as well.
In the same paper today, I read that 35 million 'game birds' are bred in the UK each year, for the sole purpose of being shot for 'sport.' Presumably none of those birds are considered important enough to have any relevance in this great scheme called life. So perhaps someone can tell me why humanity has any greater relevance. Other than a giant ego and an endless capacity for imagination, are we really any different? Religious folk in particular appear determined to delude themselves that they're not really animals at all. Hello?
Read those beliefs above again and ask yourself if humanity is indeed the most intelligent creature on the planet.
BBC sci-fi / crime series 'Torchwood' has just ended it's first series run of 13 episodes and seems ready for an appraisal. Torchwood is an anagram of Doctor Who and has been marketed as an 'adult spin-off' of the veteran series. I haven't personally watched Doctor Who since the days of Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker in the 70s, so I had little initial interest in Torchwood as a concept. It just happened to be on TV one night and I thought I'd give it a chance. I found Episode one to be generally poor. The characters, other than Jack Harkness, seemed weak, the thin plot-line highly implausible and the special effects mediocre. The notion of Torchwood itself seemed to be a straightforward rip-off of 'The Men In Black' without the humour. Ho-hum.
The following week there was nothing else on worth watching so I gave it another go. This time the characters were growing and the plot was moving in an interesting direction. I made a point of watching the rest of the series, something which I very rarely do.
I should point out that Torchwood is far from perfect. Many of the plot-lines are frankly silly and two of the Torchwood team are surplus to acting requirements. The female character Tosh exhibits a range of emotion from highly stressed to panic-stricken while Iantob appears to be continually on the verge of bursting into tears. Both are continually upstaged by single episode characters, including the late Suzie and the female pilot who Owen falls for. The other three team members take up the slack admirably, with Captain Jack oozing charisma and capability, 'new girl' Gwen exuding a fascinating mixture of vulnerability and toughness and wide-boy Owen strutting around like a member of 'The Hustle' team.
Torchwood was touted as having sex, swearing and violence. There's a lot less swearing than an average chat with Gordon Ramsay, and other than the slightly stomach-turning 'Countrycide' episode, there's little in the way of gore. On the sex side, we do get some results, mainly in the 'sexual orientation' department. All the team appear to have bi-sexual tendencies, which makes for some fun, and Gwen is happy to bed hop between Owen and her live-in boyfriend. None of the sex is any way graphic but it doesn't need to be.
This is essentially British sci-fi. It obviously has a reasonable budget, and several of the characters are highly empathetic, particularly Jack and Gwen. There are moments to make you laugh and others to make you wince and overall it's different enough to keep you interested, if rarely on the edge of your seat.
As with 'Lost', there is enough to keep you coming back for more, but there remains a general feeling of drift rather than tautness of script. The series finale is at times gripping, but spoiled somewhat by the 'King Kong' style appearance of Abbadon, a supposed demon mentioned in the biblical Revelations, a somewhat strange plot move given the decidedly atheistic tone of the production thus far. A character brought back to life maintains that there is 'nothing -- only blackness' and Jack attempts to dissaude a potential suicide with the same argument.
The overall feel of Torchwood is a curious mixture of dark nihilism and wry humour, and the series is entirely character driven. Take Jack, Gwen or Owen out of the equation and the whole thing collapses. There is however tremendous potential in this concept and we must hope that the script writers can pull things together in series two. I for one am looking forward to it.
''Humans will believe in almost anything that denies the sheer randomness of existence.''
A quote from the character Jack Harkness in Torchwood.
And it's true. Religion, drugs, alcohol -- they're pretty widespread.
If an ant wanders across a pavement and someone steps on it, is that destiny? Or just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time?
If a person steps off a kerb and is struck by a bus, is that destiny? Or just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Life is random. Everything in our own personal little worlds can change in a second. Or a year. Nothing is pre-destined. No-one can see the future. No-one can or ever could prophesy with any accuracy events to come. And the search for meaning where there is none is a futile gesture.