Archived entries for society and religion

Caesar Non Supra Feminismus

I’d originally set out to write a follow-up post to the one about tribalism, about the war feminists are waging against men, believing myself to be an innocent bystander and collateral damage. It contained *cough* such gems as “the emasculation of the human male” and “the repression of mens’ sexuality”. There’s probably still something to it, but now is not the time. What happened was that I had a solid moment of introspection that led to an epiphany about my relationship with women where I am not a good guy. This was a surprise given how I conscientiously try to avoid being a dick (literally and metaphorically), and support causes for equality.

Yes, this is A Very Serious Topic, and it’s even longer than my usual rants. I’ve got my big boy pants on.

I recall at least four occasions where I believe I caused significant hurt to specific women in my life – not physical hurt as such, but mental or emotional damage. I’m going to refer to them as One, Two, Three and Four not because I’m trying to hide the truth or strip them of their identity to lessen my culpability, but obviously these things didn’t happen in a vacuum, so there’ll be those of you out there who know the other person that I’m talking about, and that could be fairly embarrassing in itself. So for what it’s worth, I’ve tried to keep the focus as much as possible on my own transgressions, but of course I must ask that those of you who know the person I’m talking about to please don’t say or do anything that might draw attention to them, without their explicit consent.

I’m not writing this to be brave. And despite my writing style and how I normally come across, I’m not using prose to try and exert my moral superiority over everyone else for once (unusual for me). I don’t even know why I’m motivated to write this at all. Maybe the writing process is an attempt at trying to understand and right the wrong within myself, and publishing it makes me accountable; maybe I’m writing this as a legacy to my son, for him to learn from my mistakes and be better than me; maybe I’m riding the zeitgeist and cobbling some pretty words to make myself feel better and fool others into thinking that I’m doing The Right Thing. The truth requires a degree of objective self-awareness that I simply do not possess.

And maybe, to the women that matter in this matter, this was not the right thing to do. If so, then I hope there’s some small comfort for you to know that I didn’t know, and didn’t intend for this to be cathartic or otherwise beneficial to myself. And whatever eventuates, I will try my best not to let further elaborations in comments and such turn this into a yay-me for being so enlightened, or a sorry-not-sorry through backpedalling.

Alright, so with that said – deep breath – let’s do this thing.


The first was in primary school, around Year 5. Yep, I started young. I have a terrible memory at the best of times, but from what I can remember, I developed a huge crush on a girl in my year. I don’t know where I got the cojones from, but I would harass her day in and day out, during recesses and lunch times, demanding that she profess love for me. I was a bully.

The situation culminated in an act that even now baffles me as to how I pulled it off, and, more importantly, why I did it. I managed to persuade a group of my friends to trap One and her friend in a series of concrete tunnels in the playground at school, with one of my friends blocking each of the three exits. As an adult I now appreciate how terrifying that would’ve been.

My next memory of that situation is being given a talk by the teacher, Mr Higgs. In my adult life I humblebrag about how I was nearly expelled because of it, because it makes me sound tough and rebellious, antithesis to the coward that I often am. I’m not sure that it was entirely true but that’s the narrative I settled on. Maybe my parents might remember something about it – surely the teachers would’ve spoken to them, but I never bothered to ask – and still haven’t – because the truth might be less flattering.

That’s not where the story ends though. A couple of years later, in the final year of Primary School, I went around collecting autographs from everybody. Unsurprisingly, One was a holdout, but after much begging and pleading she relented and wrote her name. It may seem like such a trivial thing but it was a forgiveness I didn’t deserve.

There’s more. I came across her again in university. I don’t recall exactly whether I first recognised her when I saw her in the lift, or whether I saw her name on a noticeboard first and then later figured it out. She didn’t recognise me, but even if she did, it’s not like as if she’d say “hi” and we’d shoot the breeze or something. I think it was also around that time that I became aware through an article somewhere that her older sister, who also studied engineering, suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. What I’m guilty of here was thinking that because she and her family seemed to have been dealt a pretty shitty hand in life, that it somehow lessened my own culpability.


The second part begins in high school. I did some pretty stalkery shit with a few girls, which is also definitely a thing with me, but that isn’t the story. I had a crush on Two, although she was already dating someone at the time. Still, we were in a tight-knit social group and spent a lot of time together. Even though she got a new boyfriend sometime between graduating from high school university, we developed a friendship through shared lectures, and a love of music and TV (in particular, X-Files). One time, we spent about 5 hours on the phone together all night watching the Oscars or some other interminably long awards show. I don’t think we even talked all that much – we were just together. This was on a landline, mind you… mobiles phones weren’t widely available back then.

I thought we were Very Good Friends and I remember being physically and emotionally close to her, but somehow I mistook that trust of friendship to be something more. I’m cringing as I recount it now, but one evening on the way home from uni, only a couple of weeks after she’d broken up with her then boyfriend, I decided it was finally “my turn” and asked her out. Her shock must have been palpable, because I recall instantly trying to walk back what I’d said, muttering something about being sick and talking out of my ass or something. Our buses arrived and we went our separate ways.

In the aftermath of that event I fell into a deep depression for around six months, during which all I could focus on was myself: where did I go wrong? What did I do wrong? Wasn’t it a natural evolution of our friendship? etc. Me, me, me. I only had a vague awareness of the fact that I no longer saw her around the campus. She went missing from lectures and may have even dropped out for a bit? I haven’t got a clue. That’s the depth of my ignorance towards somebody whom I considered a friend and thought I cared deeply about.

I fell in with some other friends and into religion, which offered hope of salvation through repentance. I found absolution through the forgiveness offered to me by God via Jesus’ suffering on the cross, a lame proxy for real forgiveness from someone who actually suffered for my sins. It was an easy out and I took it, riding the high horse of religious morality for the next decade or so.


I almost didn’t include this one because I felt like I wasn’t the instigator and therefore recused from accountability. Three had separated from her boyfriend of many years, and partly as a result of the timing of when I moved to Sydney, I became a friend and confidant. We would have deep, long conversations at her place lasting late into the night (clearly late nights aren’t a good sign for me).

Neither of us ever would’ve admitted to being romantically interested in the other but we were pretty close, to the point where people often asked me whether we were a couple (and if not, why not). I took full advantage of being in a relationship with someone without accepting any emotional responsibility. I once chided her for “looking like a sex crime waiting to happen” as if it were a compliment and a sign of how much I cared and was concerned about her… *cringe*.

My fault here was once again believing there was more than there actually was. I got it into my head that I was becoming too emotionally involved (as if there was anything wrong with that anyway), so in the emo fog that drives most of my writing, I hand-wrote a letter containing some terrible analogy about fishermen, anchors, choppy seas, etc. and delivered it as a letter slipped under her door in the dead of night (see what I mean about the weird stalker thing?)

We remained friends in spite of that. Later, she met somebody, and told me about it like you would to a friend, but I twisted that to suit my own egotistical purposes by telling to others that even though I rejected her – as if there was anything to reject – she was still looking to me for guidance and advice.


The fourth one was a work colleague. We’d known each other since I started working at the company, but it wasn’t until a few years down the track that we became friends. She was like an office wife – someone to whom I could vent frustrations about work, clients, office politics and such. Being single, she always gave her complete and undivided attention, which was intense for a social retard like me. I basked in it like a bear emerging from a winter of hibernation into the bright, warm sun.

As I spent time with Four, my thoughts congealed around an “epiphany” that had been formulating in my head for a while: I prefer being friends with women than men! I mean, after all, didn’t I have such satisfying friendships with Two and Three? Plus I vastly prefer the company and conversation of women to that of men. Surely that explains my complete and utter failure to form healthy, positive male relationships in spite of my attempts over the years. I rationalised that toxic masculinity (which to me essentially means anything I’m not interested in, like sport) would ultimately ruin any male friendship I was ever likely to have.

Except I was never really a friend to Four or any of the other women; I obsessed over them, not dissimilar to the jilted protagonist of the TV comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I used them as salve for my psychological problems. I pressed Four to get involved in issues that had nothing to do with her, and when she tried to dial back in order to maintain a healthy distance, I chucked an epic hissy fit and annihilated our friendship. Worse, I played my wife off against her, making out as if there was bad blood between them, when they previously had a perfectly cordial relationship.

We encountered each other one time after I changed jobs. I attempted to paper over the situation and see if I couldn’t salvage at least a little of what we had before, but she was the one that had to hold strong and protect me from myself.


I mentioned four women at the beginning of the post, but there is a fifth that that I must mention – the most important one. It may never have occurred to her that I could ever have been one of them and therefore she wouldn’t have expected a post like this. I don’t think I have hurt her, at least not in the same way that I’ve hurt the ones above but she deserves no less than any of the other women already mentioned here.

To Jenny: I see the trials that you go through as a woman. For the judgement you receive as a stay-at-home mother and home-maker, and the oppression and bias you receive on a daily basis from the societies and cultures that we live in. I’m sorry for my role in this – mostly for my silence, but also what you’ve suffered directly from me over the years, like being an insufferable know-it-all and mansplaining everything; the unwritten agreement that binds you to carry the bulk of the emotional, social and other burdens in our family; and even this post itself and the violation of your privacy for my purposes.


There stands the current ledger of my most egregious sins against women. There were a couple of other cases that I thought about including, but chose not to in the end because maybe the repercussions weren’t as severe as for the ones chronicled here. If you are one of those women and I’ve misread the situation, make it known to me and I will attempt to make restitution.

It’s customary at this point to provide the reader with some kind of closure. A summary of the things I’ve learned and henceforth I will sin no more, or some such homily. But I assure you there’ll be no such thing. This has no resolution because I have no claim to forgiveness; I can’t and won’t beg it from any of these women because none is owed to me.

Sadly, it would be an all-too-trivial exercise to find forgiveness in excuses: I was only a kid; it was all just feelings; it happened a long time ago; I misunderstood the situation; my transgressions are trivial compared to real crimes against women – it’s not like I hit or raped anyone. And the problem is that society is OK with that, happy to be complicit in it, even. I now see why one of the basic tenet of forgiveness in Christianity has such cut-through: you don’t even have to confront your victims to find forgiveness. As you confess your sins God forgives you. Jesus-fucking-Christ! Where indeed, are my accusers? Probably too afraid to speak up lest they themselves be judged by men, or even their peers, against the standards of our so-called modern society.

Nope. Sorry, but that can’t be where it ends any more. Men must come to the realisation of the role they, as individuals, play in the subjugation of women on both a conscious and subconscious level, and we must join together, men and women, on a journey towards true equality.

I’m not really here

As an atheist, the reason why I go to church is not for religious reasons but a social one. It’s the antidote to my geeky tendency to stay at home and “socialise” from behind a computer screen.

In Talk To The Hand, Lynne Truss’s treatise on the rudeness of today’s society, she hypothesises that one possible cause of impoliteness stems from an increasing focus on individual rights, and the right to assert one’s personal space, freedoms and liberties even when in public. Therefore going out is no longer a social experience, but an exercise in managing one’s “bubble” necessitating new forms of etiquette that explain how to maintain one’s state of isolation without raising the ire of others (think mobile phones on the train).

Social Networking makes many bold claims about increasing peoples’ connectedness, but this too, is done entirely in isolation, with each person sitting alone in front of their own computer.

Truss spends a chapter talking about the historical impact of the telephone: one could, for the first time, speak to somebody that wasn’t physically present. The Internet has added yet a third layer on top of that – you no longer transmit yourself directly through your own physical voice, but with mere words. The book points out the rudeness of talking on the phone in the presence of others, but now now you can be texting somebody while talking on the phone, adding yet another level of “unpresence” to conversations.

Church, which is still predominantly conducted as a physical gathering, forces me to participate in a community, as week by week I see the same people. People who I may not want to talk to. Ironically, the small talk that I fear in “meatspace” is exactly the kind of thing that passes unremarked in a constant stream in cyberspace (via Facebook).

It’s ironic. A big criticism of religion is that it requires a belief in the intangible, the metaphysical, and yet religious institutions are the ones offering real community experiences.


This post is a part of the series An Atheist in God’s Kingdom.


I’d like to start a discussion about changing attributes of fictional characters, which has cropped up a lot recently in cases like black Hermione in the stage production of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”, Jodie Whittaker as the next Doctor in the TV series, calls for a female James Bond… the list goes on: Myles Morales, Thor Girl, Ghostbusters, etc., etc. (Isn’t it interesting how it’s predominantly a “nerd culture” problem, although that’s not what I’m going to be talking about.)

I tend not to wade into internet arguments, because I have friends that straddle both sides of the fence, and I like to always keep an open mind. But this one’s been around long enough that I’m comfortable taking a position on it. Maybe I’m going to cop a lot of flak for it, but it’s been a while since I’ve put up a decent, meaty post, so it’s probably about time.

I guess it shouldn’t come as any surprise that people only seem to be able to take a binary view of the matter – either it’s OK to update any character with different attributes (because it’s all just make-believe, right?), or it’s not, because to change anything messes with some kind of mystical sacred bond between creator and creation (or rather, then ownership that the consumer feels towards both of them because they spent their hard earned on it).

Of course, the rational position is never so clear-cut and lies somewhere in between, so let’s try and pull together some things that we can use to make a call on whether or not a character should be changed.

The Everyman

The first concept I’d like to present is the Everyman (with apologies for the gendered nature of the term, but that’s yet another whole kettle of fish). This trope describes how authors and writers get us, as readers and viewers, to relate to their stories. It’s when we find a character so relatable that we can put ourselves into their shoes, and be them or be like them. Therefore, the protagonist of a story becomes a conduit for engaging with the narrative plot and setting, via empathy from the reader. Books remain popular in spite of TV and movies because consuming the written word requires imagination, and people imagine themselves in the role of the protagonist.

Some are more obvious than others: I still remember a conversation I once had with a former colleague after I first finished reading Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. He asked me whether I noticed anything about the main character. Remembering details is not one of my strong points, so I told him I had no idea. “Ender is never physically described,” he replied. Now I never verified this claim, but taken at face value, the character becomes an avatar that the reader can project themselves into, so that the author could emotionally hook them into the morality tale inside an epic space opera.

However, an everyman is not every man (or woman, or child). Naturally, there must be some attributes that make the character unique, or special, in service of the plot. Ender Wiggin was a small child. His being a child was an essential component of the story that Card was trying to tell, because of the innocence that children possess. Gender, less so. And ethnicity, not at all. But it should be easy to see that as more plot-essential attributes are added, the less relatable a character becomes. This is why there are very few (successful) speculative fiction novels about aliens set in alien worlds with no parallels with our own.

Another example that hits close to home for me, as a Transformers fan, is the Michael Bay live-action movie franchise. These movies are universally panned by fans and critics alike, and yet in spite of that, they have been extremely commercially successful. During the production of the first movie, Stephen Spielberg (one of the producers) told the screenwriters that “a boy and his car” should be the focus of the story.

Now this may seem like an odd choice for a franchise about huge transforming robots, but as a successful filmmaker Spielberg probably has some insight that the rest of us don’t. This is just my guess, but I reckon that at some point the special effects budget dictated that they couldn’t give the robots enough screen time to make them relatable, so therefore a human cast was brought onboard to do the emotional heavy-lifting. The fans’ crushing disappointment then, was most likely in no small part due to having to shoulder the role of… well, Shia Labeouf, when they were expecting to emulate their heroes, the Autobots – who in the sequels, were themselves cast into horrible, unrelatable stereotypes.


That last point leads nicely into the other concept I believe to be relevant: representation. This is the question of “who wants to be that character?”

We obviously relate most to those who are most like us, whether that’s our physical attributes, socio-political (or even literal) environment, or emotional state. So there more like us a character is, the more engaged we’re likely to be. That’s all very well and good for books, where, as I said before, it allows some imagination on the part of the reader. The problem lies in visual media, i.e. comics, theatre, TV and films, where creators have no option but to make certain choices about what a character looks like. Hence we get Asa Butterfield as Ender, for instance. He could have been any race, but Hollywood cast a white boy because of their deeply entrenched capitalist status quo that maintains whites represent the “largest market share”[1].

It should be apparent how alienating this decision is to people of other races. That’s not to say it’s wrong. The singular nature of race means that no matter which one is chosen, the rest are then excluded. The mistake is in thinking that these choices somehow become an essential part of the character. With each attribute that is added to the “core essence”, the group of people who identify with the character becomes smaller, but the degree of identification becomes stronger, and therein lies one of the key reasons why some people insist characters can only be a certain way. Taken to its logical conclusion, this also flips our earlier question on its head, turning it from “who wants to be that character?” into “who does the character want to be?”

That’s why diversity in representation is needed, so that everybody gets a chance to see themselves portrayed in print or on screen, which will grow the market rather than shrink it.

Hopefully all this gives us some guidance as to whether changes to a character are justified: let’s take a look at the cases mentioned at the beginning of this essay:

  • Black Hermione: does the character’s race have any plot implications whatsoever? Nope. Next!
  • Female Doctor Who: this is an interesting one. The Doctor isn’t actually an everyman – that’s the role of the companion. The character serves as a lens for us to observe the human condition. Given the topicality of gender roles, it is entirely appropriate because the character is nothing more than a plot device in spite of being eponymous (kinda like Zelda in The Legend of Zelda videogames).
  • Female James Bond: this is an example of “limited appeal”. Bond was specifically concocted as a suave, sophisticated alpha-male archetype that men wanted to be, and women wanted to be with (back in those sexist, misogynist days). Given Bond’s anachronisms, he should be retired, not replaced. So that’s a firm “no”.

Do you agree?


[1] It should be noted that international earnings are starting to exceed US domestic earnings, putting paid to this theory; see: Why U.S. Audiences Matter Less To Film Box Office Success

On Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran

When I first heard the news that Bali Nine ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran had received the death penalty, my initial reaction was indifference. My stance was that as much as I disagree with capital punishment, they had the misfortune to be caught for criminal activity in a country where it is practised, and that’s just too bad; there are plenty of other issues I would rather to direct my energies toward.

But then I found out I had a friend who knew Andrew directly (school friends, I think). He and his friends made impassioned pleas for people to look beneath the façade, to see the story of repentance and redemption. These guys, by their own admission, weren’t exactly always model citizens, and but for some “second chance” opportunities that they were lucky enough to have received ended up on the right path instead of the wrong one. For example:


Practically everyone who was in favour of the execution seemed to think that Chan and Sukumaran deserved what they got for doing what they did – that is, trafficking drugs. Most cite supporting arguments like how drugs continue to ruin many peoples’ lives, etc.

The problem I have with this view view is that it supposes that drug users are victims and in no way complicit for their role in the drug trade. Everybody knows that the drug trade, like every other business, works by supply and demand. Only, in this case, demand is generally attributed to addiction.

Now addiction’s supposed to be this physiological condition where people get hooked onto substances, after which they no can no longer help themselves and basically become victims. However, recent science is starting to uncover something interesting about addiction:

If you get run over today and you break your hip, you will probably be given diamorphine, the medical name for heroin. In the hospital around you, there will be plenty of people also given heroin for long periods, for pain relief. The heroin you will get from the doctor will have a much higher purity and potency than the heroin being used by street-addicts, who have to buy from criminals who adulterate it. So if the old theory of addiction is right — it’s the drugs that cause it; they make your body need them — then it’s obvious what should happen. Loads of people should leave the hospital and try to score smack on the streets to meet their habit.

But here’s the strange thing: It virtually never happens.

Excerpt from the Huffington Post: “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think”

The article goes on to provide a thorough argument for the theory that addiction is a symptom of a lack of human connection. That is, addiction doesn’t exist when people have good social relationships. So bringing this back to Chan and Sukumaran: how hard is it to believe that they “got caught up in the wrong crowd” and did what they did because of a lack of positive social connections?

When they were jailed, they found themselves in an environment where they were able to form positive relationships with jailers and fellow inmates. Everything you read about their decade in prison points to the fact that they were thoroughly rehabilitated, and made positive contributions in their new environment.

All of which brings me to the conclusion that addicts and criminals are not so different from each other. Yet society is quick to assign blame to one and portray the other as the victim, when in reality they are both victims of (social) circumstances.

On reflection, this missive was needed much, much earlier, but as with most complex issues, it has taken a long time for me to process and come to an understanding that I felt comfortable sharing (not to mention the usual laborious process of converting my thoughts into a coherent piece of prose). So although it’s too late for Andrew and Myu, I hope that those among you who felt they deserved to die read this and consider how blessed we are to be friends. Maybe you saved me from a similar fate in the past, or will do so sometime in the future… and I you.

Aborting anti-abortionist arguments

Yellow Balloons with "Yes" in celebration of Ireland passing laws in favour of abortion rights

Photograph by Informatique

Ireland recently passed laws to allow abortions in circumstances where the mother’s life is at risk (link). As reported in the article, the trigger for the change was a case where a woman died from blood poisoning after being refused an abortion.

Typically, the ensuing reporting painted a picture of outrage from those against the change, but it strikes me that “pro-lifers”, like climate change deniers, are an over-represented minority view. Unlike climate change though, it does strike me as surprising that many churchgoers tend to put themselves into the anti-abortion camp simply because they feel it is the right side to be on.

I felt that this was worth considering.

First, a thought experiment. Supposing God’s character is exactly as detailed in the bible, this suggests that He supports “life” (I realise this is a big call, since it begs the questions of why there are deaths due to natural disasters, earthquakes, etc. but sadly that’s just too much for one blog post). That in itself is vague, so let me break it down as follows: assuming the child is not yet ready to be born, a complication arises during pregnancy such that both mother and child’s lives are at risk.

  1. If an abortion is denied, both mother and child die
  2. If an abortion is granted, the mother’s life is saved

In the first outcome the net result is total death; none survive. It is only in the second outcome that one life is preserved at the cost of another. A God that is “pro-life” should therefore desire the second outcome. So what objections could there be to this? I can think of two:

  • Those who believe “nature” should be allowed to take its course (oftentimes expressed as “submitting to God’s will”). Those who fall into this category are simply ignorant hypocrites – humans have been interfering with natural processes for as long as recorded human history (and then some). In fact, interfering with nature is pretty much one of our defining characteristics as human beings, e.g. agriculture, domesticating animals, etc.
  • Those who object to the act of “killing”, even for the sake of saving life. Again, this is hypocritical as human sacrifice is prominent in the bible, particularly in the Old Testament (e.g. God commanding Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt offering – although this was not actually carried out), but also Jesus’ crucifixion. There are also some lengthy discussions on the nature of murder, but even these allow killing in the act of self-defence.

Having said that, let me come back to the point I made near the beginning of the post where I said that only a minority of Christians would actually hold these views. Certainly, of all the Christians I have ever encountered, none would deny a woman an abortion if it meant saving her life. So I will take liberties here and state, without proof, that any Christian who understands their faith and has actually considered the issue, should arrive at the same conclusion.

And what about abortion under other circumstances?

This may seem like a cop-out, but I would categorise anything apart from the above scenario as no longer just about abortion, but enmeshed with a bunch of other judgements about sexual immorality. For example, those who would condemn a woman for choosing to have a “voluntary” abortion will usually also have some very strong opinions about promiscuity, sex outside of marriage, or responsibility. Pretty big issues, so another time perhaps…


This post is part of the series An Atheist in God’s Kingdom.

Copyright © 2004–2011. All rights reserved.

This blog is proudly powered by Wordpress and uses Modern Clix, a theme by Rodrigo Galindez.

RSS Feed