Still not raining

Look, we’ve covered this before.

We noted the city’s request for prayers here:

Why haven’t our religious leaders been praying for rain already? And if they have, where’s the evidence? Who’s withholding the damn rain anyway, and why?

And we added a touch of sarcasm here:

Tamboerskloof vicar Rev. Denise Woodhouse stated that she had been instructed by her senior clergy to hold off any specific reference to rain in her Sunday prayers “until April or May”.
When it was pointed out to her that this was rather convenient timing, given that that’s when the seasonal rains usually begin anyway, she replied, “Yes, isn’t God amazing?” and hurried off to help with pouring the tea at the Women’s Auxiliary meeting.

But the weird thing is that with just n days of water left, people are still genuinely suggesting that prayer is the answer to the current water crisis:

Exactly what do these people think is responsible for this crisis? The underlying cause of the lack of water is simply a lack of rain.

Given that we are advised to “put our faith in God as He is the only one who can save us from the catastrophe” (as He did just after that day of prayer about 30 years ago), I’m left wondering why He hasn’t done something about this already.

Is He really sitting up there in heaven, omnipotent, but waiting for us all to worship a bit harder before He sends any precipitation to Cape Town? Are the recent floods in Gauteng a sign that they prayed harder or better than we did, or is He just trolling?

Behold what I am capable of, just up the N1! Enough rain to fill their dams (and sweep innocent schoolchildren to their deaths), but no: you’re not having any until you get yourselves to church and beg for it. And, if you’ve already been to church and begged for it, then go again and beg a bit harder.

And then, when it does eventually rain, you will praise me for granting you watery salvation, conveniently overlooking all the times I ignored your repeated and increasingly desperate prayers over the past few months.

But that’s exactly what Ilze Müller and her kind will do: drowning (pun intended) in religious confirmation bias, defending the indefensible, brainwashed and blinkered.

Still, if I can get an afternoon off work on the strength of pretending to participate in their ludicrous charade, I’m obviously all for it.

Cause of Ebola in Liberia “is homosexualism”

All those nonsensical theories about fruit bat reservoirs and under-cooked bush meat can finally be put aside, because some very important men in Liberia have met and revealed that the reason that Liberia has been stuck by the well-documented viral outbreak is:

That God is angry with Liberia, and that Ebola is a plague. Liberians have to pray and seek God’s forgiveness over the corruption and immoral acts (such as homosexualism, etc.) that continue to penetrate our society.

I need to point out right now that firstly, I realise that ‘homosexualism’ isn’t actually a word, and that secondly, I was not responsible for the use of the word ‘penetrate’ soon after ‘homosexualism’.
STOP SNIGGERING AT THE BACK!

But how can this be?
West African homosexualism is impossible! Lest we forget – it’s been proven with Nigerian magnets!

Anyway, the very important men were, as you may have guessed from their initial statement:

…more than 100 Bishops, Pastors, General Overseers, Prophets, Evangelists and other Ministers of the Gospel.

comprising of (but not limited to):

…mainstream church leaders such as Archbishop of the Catholic Church of Liberia, Lewis Zeiglier, first vice president of the Liberian Council of Churches, Rt. Reverend Dr. Kortu Brown, as well as representatives of other Christian associations with whom the LCC collaborated in organizing the meeting.

“But,” I hear you asking, “were The Pentecostal Fellowship Union of Liberia, Liberia Fellowship of Full Gospel Ministers, Association of Evangelicals of Liberia, Prophetic Call to Ministers, Christian Community in Liberia and the Apostolic World Christian Fellowship also represented?”

Well, let me put your mind at rest with this quote:

The Pentecostal Fellowship Union of Liberia, Liberia Fellowship of Full Gospel Ministers, Association of Evangelicals of Liberia, Prophetic Call to Ministers, Christian Community in Liberia, Apostolic World Christian Fellowship were all represented.

So – in short – yes. Yes, they were.

But now, finding the cause of the outbreak is surely only half the issue. What are we going to do about sorting it out, now that it’s already happening? No worries, they’ve got that sorted too:

That a three-day indoor fast and prayer across the nation be observed, commencing next Wednesday, August 6th, and concluding Friday, August 8th.

Maybe they also advised people to use hand sanitiser, to not hug corpses and to go and see a doctor promptly if they felt sick?
Well, no, they didn’t, but they did apparently suggest that people: “knock on the door of God”.

To be fair to the Big Man Upstairs, I would completely understand if He chose not to answer; after all, as we have all heard, homosexualism and Ebola are apparently rife in Liberia.

The folly of DSTV censorship

I was watching a couple of back episodes of The Blacklist last night on PVR and I was left bewildered by the censoring of certain parts of the audio.

Before we continue, let me point out that I am well aware of my responsibilities as a parent. I am also aware that I can switch the “family” audio selection (which silences “naughty” words) on or off, and that actually, I’m glad that we have that option: I don’t want my kids hearing the f-word every two minutes on the movie channel (or whatever).
I’m also happy to acknowledge that it’s my fault that I always forget to switch the “family” audio selection off before I start watching my stuff.

But those things are not really what this post is about.

Last night’s first episode (S01E09: “Anslo Garrick”, for the purists) centres around the main character, Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington – a successful, and seemingly untouchable “fixer” now turned FBI informant – being cornered by the horribly-scarred, revenge-seeking soldier of fortune Anslo Garrick, who we are told: “almost exclusively works with a group of heavily armed, highly skilled mercenaries who call themselves The Wild Bunch: former flag wavers made over in Frankenstein-like fashion into bloodless, country-less killers”.

Nice guys.

As Reddington states:

Why not let them have me, Donald?
I’ll likely be tortured for weeks and left to rot until they finally deign to put a bullet in my skull.

And within the first 5 minutes of the episode, The Wild Bunch have stormed the secret FBI facility, using silenced sub-machine guns to graphically tear apart the bodies of about 20 guards, and Garrick himself has needlessly shot a truck driver in the head at near point blank range, spraying his brain all over a truck window.

Another main character, Agent Ressler, has been shot in the leg and we can see the mix of blood, expensive suit, muscle tissue and bone, as he screams and writhes in agony on the floor of the bunker.

Now Garrick speaks to Reddington (who is trapped in a room, but currently “safe” behind blast-proof glass), his voice slow, hoarse and menacing:

Red, Red. Did you really think there was a distance you could cover or a hole deep enough that you could hide in? There is nowhere in this world that I cannot reach you, Red. Fortification be damned.
I heard you made yourself some sweet little immunity deal, Red. I heard that you fitted the FBI with strings, and now they hang upon your hip like a hatchet.

But they can’t keep you safe from someone like me, Red, someone who sat in blackness for five years.
Five years thinking about the pain I was going to inflict on you while slowly breaking your will, your body… and finally your mind.
That day is here, my friend.
And it will end with your screams, as God is my witness.

One almost completely forgets the multiple implausibilities of the scene as one is gripped by the unfolding drama.

Except, after all this, DSTV silenced the word “God” out of that last line.
You know, just in case anyone got offended by it.

Now, maybe some people are offended by the use of the word “God” there, and, while I think that’s rather silly of them, that’s their right. But why on earth are those people watching this programme with its repeated and graphic portrayals of mindless, callous violence? The insidious psychological effect of the threats and description of torture?
At what point are they offended by a three-letter word and not by the scenes of spraying blood, the screams of dying young men, the emotionless brutality depicted time and time again as someone else’s son or daughter is torn apart in a hail of bullets?

Who are these people and why do they not find themselves offended by that?
The dichotomy leaves me bewildered.

The episode we watched last night was rated 13 VL by DSTV. That is: “containing scenes of violence, and language which may be unsuitable for viewers below the age of 13”.

The violence even had my [redacted] year old wife looking away. But again, that’s another story.

The language… well… the only word in the entire 45 minutes which was removed was that one “God” above (and by “above”, I mean above in this post, not “Who art in Heaven”, ok?).

I’m not quite sure why a 12 year old shouldn’t be allowed to hear the phrase “God is my witness”, given that in any decent Christian school (like the one mine go to, incidentally), they’ll surely read (for example) Romans 1:9 and/or Philippians 1:8, which both, as I’m sure you’ll be well aware, feature that very phrase. Does it come down to context? Are those references in the New Testament considered somehow sacred just because they appear in “that book”?
In which case, maybe I’ve answered my own question. Perhaps the violence bit is ok, simply because there are no Biblical references to soldiers’ bodies being ripped apart in a spray of automatic gunfire?

Who on earth are we trying to protect in censoring the word “God” here, and what on earth are we trying to protect them from?

Satan’s Arithmetic

From Frederick Schoeman of Cape Town on Friday’s Cape Times letters page:

Satan’s Arithmetic

I believe that a couple of centuries ago, two mathematicians were demonstrating their numerical skills to the French monarchy when one of them stunned his opponent and the audience by reciting an algebraic formula and claiming it to be proof that “God lives”.
Could I borrow a leaf out of that man’s book and claim that, since the graph of world population growth over the past 1700 years looks like a serpent trying to slither up a wall, Satan is alive and thriving on human lust?

I’ve been doing some extensive research into Fred’s story, but the best that I could come up with was the the story of Leonhard Euler, who was a mathematician, but was Swiss, not French, and his presentation of an algebraic formula, claiming to be the proof that God lives. This presentation was made to another individual, Denis Diderot who was French, but was better known for his philosophical musing, rather than his mathematical prowess. In addition, this presentation was made in St Petersburg in 1774, in front of the Russian Empress Catherine II, rather than any French monarch.
Wikipedia tells us:

There is a famous anecdote inspired by Euler’s arguments with secular philosophers over religion, which is set during Euler’s second stint at the St. Petersburg academy.
The French philosopher Denis Diderot was visiting Russia on Catherine the Great’s invitation. However, the Empress was alarmed that the philosopher’s arguments for atheism were influencing members of her court, and so Euler was asked to confront the Frenchman.
Diderot was later informed that a learned mathematician had produced a proof of the existence of God: he agreed to view the proof as it was presented in court. Euler appeared, advanced toward Diderot, and in a tone of perfect conviction announced, “Monsieur! (a+b)^n/n = x, donc Dieu existe, répondez!”.

This roughly translates as:

Listen mate, a plus b to the power n, over n, equals x. That means God exists.
What do you say to that then, huh? HUH?!?

Allegedly, Denis failed to provide an immediate answer. Or indeed any answer:

Diderot, to whom (says the story) all mathematics was gibberish, stood dumbstruck as peals of laughter erupted from the court. Embarrassed, he asked to leave Russia, a request that was graciously granted by the Empress.

This sudden stage fright could have been due to Euler’s sheer mathematical brilliance.
Or, conversely, it may have been caused by Diderot’s incredulity that some Swiss bloke had successfully baffled him with bullshit by spouting some maths at him and pretending that it meant something that it actually didn’t.
Why not try something similar at your local supermarket this weekend? At the Deli counter, ask for some ham. When the lady asks how much you’d like, exclaim loudly (remembering to use a tone of perfect conviction):
“Madam! a x squared, multiplied by b x, plus c, equals zero, therefore I’m off to the jams and spreads aisle. What say you to that?”.
See if she can find an immediate answer.

When she can’t, she must ask her boss’s permission to leave the country and go back to France.

Either way, there’s a whole lot more detail, including eye witness accounts, right here.

Of course, the formula didn’t prove that God exists at all, although it later proved invaluable in predicting how long one would have to wait for the next bus to the St Petersburg city centre.
Nice work, Leonhard.

So, the first of Fred’s paragraphs proven wholly misguided, yet almost slightly true, we move on to his second.
The bit about the snake.

But before that, at this point that I’d like us all to stop and consider some stuff for just a second. Firstly, put yourself in Fred’s shoes. At some moment in time, Fred actually felt that there was a connection between his 18th century algebraic French monarchy court presentation story and a graph of world population growth over the last 1700 years. Personally, I can’t see it. It’s like me taking an excerpt from a book on the dinosaurs and somehow linking it to the recent downturn in Malaysian rubber production.
But I digress. The important point here is that Fred saw this relationship.
Secondly (and still in Fred’s shoes), Fred sat down and wrote to the Cape Times about it. That is, not only did he feel that the connection was a valid one, he felt it was worth sharing – not just with his friends (although I have no idea if he put it on his Facebook wall) – but with the general population of Cape Town and surrounds.  While he was typing (or writing – who knows?) away, he still thought it was a good idea to sent it through to the letters page. When he addressed the envelope or entered the email address (ctletters@inl.co.za), he remained under the impression that the not only did his observation make complete sense, but that it was so important that 268,000 readers should be informed of it.
And then, once his thoughts arrived at the Cape Times office, at a time when sharks, rugby, racial issues, politics and cellphone masts (What? – Ed.) are at the forefront of all of our minds, Fred’s letter was one of the seven best that was received by the local rag that day.

Yes. Really.

But onto the serpent thing. I had a good luck around on the internet and the best graph I could come up with to illustrate  Fred’s serpent against a wall thing was this one:

Obviously, you can ignore the bit before 311 AD, as Fred didn’t consider that when making his serpentine comparison.
Personally, I felt that it was a bit of a stretch, but then I’m no expert on what exactly a serpent trying to slither up a wall looks like. That’s why I searched for “a serpent trying to slither up a wall” on google images.

This was the best that I could find:

Which seems to suggest that human population exploded upwards, remained almost static while traveling back and then forward again in time, before increasing almost exponentially, peaking and then dropping off to the current number. That aside, we shouldn’t overlook that fact that

…it’s gripping onto that brickwork because Satan is thriving on human lust.

A few points, if I may be so bold:

Firstly, algebra cannot prove the existence of God. Theologians might have their own reasons for why this may be, but mine is probably more simple: that he doesn’t exist and that it’s awfully difficult to prove the existence of something that doesn’t exist – algebraically or otherwise.
Secondly, unless I’m missing some big chunk of causality here, an alleged incident in a “Parisian” court chamber 200+ years ago doesn’t have any bearing on the fact that “Satan is alive and thriving on human lust”.
Thirdly, I do still quite like the idea of an algebraic duel:

Sir, you have insulted me and I demand satisfaction. Meet me at 6 o’clock tomorrow morning and bring a blackboard.
No calculators.

Fourthly, what does Fred want us to do? Not breed? Adam and Eve bred. Mary and Joseph bred (sort of). Hey, Mr and Mrs Schoeman (Snr) bred. Are these also examples of human lust upon which Satan is thriving?
Fifthly, any line graph looks a bit like a snake on a wall.
Any block graph resembles the Manhattan Skyline.
Any pie chart has the appearance of… well… a pie. Deal with it.
Sixthly, get your historical facts right if you wish to make a good impression on those reading, but remember that…
Seventhly, just because you think something, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to write it down and send it to the Cape Times.
Lastly, just because you think something, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to write 1300 words on it on your blog.

Did the earth move for you in 2005?

The chatter in Gauteng is (possibly) all about last night’s Gauteng earthquake/tremor which, it turns out, wasn’t in Gauteng at all. It measured 2.8 on the Richter scale and twitter was instantly ablaze with the thought that the Daily Star’s prophecy might actually have come true, although of course a quick look at this page would tell you that Southern Africa is actually hit fairly regularly by small earthquakes.

There’s no way of actually predicting where or when an earthquake might strike. If there was – like there is with volcanoes – then evacuations could take place and the number of casualties would be drastically reduced. Obviously there are areas which are at higher risk than others, but you’ll find that SA is pretty safe in this regard.

Which makes Chris van der Walt’s prediction that:

an enormous earthquake is going to hit the Rand (Greater Johannesburg area) very soon…

somewhat bizarre. Even more so when you hear the details of this enormous earthquake:

The earth opened up like a massive chasm with buildings toppling over. It stretched from the east and south of Johannesburg and came together in the city centre. From there it continued to the West Rand.

Yikes. And who told Chris that all this was going to happen?
Well, that would be the Holy Spirit. Yep – a voice from upstairs.

But look, it’s not all bad news. Chris points out that you might get away in time (but terms and conditions apply):

Again I say what the Lord said: “An enormous earthquake is going to hit the Rand (greater Johannesburg area) soon and it is unavoidable. It is going to be disastrous. I will protect My children who listen and take them away in time.” 

Which to me seem to be a bit of a threat to sign up to christianity or die a horrible death in Johannesburg in late 2005.
Chris continues:

In me there is no doubt about the genuineness of this word of God and it will also be proved the day when the earthquake occurs.

Which, of course it never did: casting some doubt on the “genuineness” of the big man upstairs.

All in all, I feel hugely let down by this god thing again. Just like when he topped those 5 kids last February. Instead of saving people in Haiti, where a real earthquake really happened and killed about a quarter of a million people, he’s wasting everyone’s time by talking to Chris in Gauteng and making a mountain out of a minedump.

Chris says:

God does not say these things as a merciless, cruel God. On the contrary, He gives this word to warn people unto repentance, irrelevant of their culture or religion. 

I don’t see it that way. I see a god who is going to kill many thousands of people by a non-existent earthquake tearing open a massive chasm through the city, complete with toppling buildings. And the only people who are going to be saved are, conveniently, those in his religion.

Which all sounds pretty merciless and cruel to me.